A User's Guide to

Peer Assistance and Review

  • What is PAR?
  • Costs and benefits of PAR
  • Designing your PAR project
  • Labor-management relations
  • Practical issues and advice

PAR in San Juan: State Funding Made it Possible

San Juan Unified School District
Number of students: 48,325
Number of teachers: 2,267
Year program began: 2000
Program Type: Intervention, Voluntary
Length of CT term: 3 years
Title of CT Role: Consulting Teacher
Name of PAR Panel: PAR Panel
Composition of Panel: 3 administrators, 4 teachers

A Big Idea Finds State Funding and Support

For over a decade, PAR was only a big idea in the minds of San Juan’s union leaders, Tom Alves and Steve Duditch. Their counterparts in the national Teachers Union Reform Network (TURN) had long ago convinced them of PAR’s success in districts such as Toledo, Rochester, and Cincinnati. Even within their own state, leaders in Poway had established a model program. Through the 1990s, Alves and Duditch visited PAR programs across the country, bringing information back to their members and enthusiastically discussing the program with district officials. They saw that PAR made it possible for teachers and principals to improve their schools and they believed that PAR would help ensure better teaching and learning in San Juan.

Steve DuditchSteve Duditch, SJTA President

Yet they had little success in moving the big idea to reality. Despite having a strong, collaborative labor-management relationship in the district, which provided the foundation for other joint initiatives, district officials were not ready to take on the challenge of PAR. Principals were wary of losing authority under PAR. Even some teachers union members resisted vocally, opposing PAR’s fundamental principle—that teachers should evaluate teachers.

Then in 1999, the California State Legislature passed a law providing financial incentives for local districts to create PAR programs. Initially, districts could use state funding to mentor novice teachers if they also provided support for veteran teachers. The new funding opened the way for PAR in San Juan, making it both affordable and legitimate. San Juan’s union leaders thought that they needed to launch a PAR program relatively quickly, capitalizing on the opportunity that the law provided. A progressive superintendent also saw the opening created by the law. Meanwhile, endorsements by the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association reinforced the local union leaders’ case for adopting PAR in San Juan.

Tom AlvesTom Alves, SJTA Executive Director

Despite initial opposition, the local union’s executive board and members eventually came around. Duditch, who worked hard to win their support, said: “We had to go to our membership and show them that we aren’t here to try to punish people. We’re here to try to help and really create a pathway for success and a pathway for exiting this profession.” Even so, ratifying the agreement was a formidable challenge. Teachers eventually were convinced that having the best teachers in the classroom was, as Alves explained, a reflection of their own self-worth: “Our people were very proud that we took a stand, because all of us want the best person in teaching.” He acknowledged, though, that it was state action that made PAR possible: “It was divided. . . . It became easier when the law was passed. . . . It isn’t about what’s best, though to some degree it is—it’s about timing!”

The State Also Imposes Constraints

PAR programs in virtually all other districts focus first on new teachers and expand to include veteran teachers once PAR for novices is up and running. However, California already had a state-funded program for new teachers, the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program (BTSA), which for 20 years had provided induction support and assessment in a standards-based program. Union leaders wanted PAR to encompass both new and veteran teachers, but the legislation did not make this possible. Therefore, with contract language stating that a “new teacher PAR [program] will be considered,” San Juan introduced a PAR program serving only experienced teachers. Yet in practice PAR works in conjunction with the district’s BTSA program under the same governing body, the PAR Panel. As one union leader explained, the goal of BTSA is to “create capacity,” while the goal of PAR is to “ensure quality teaching.”

Union leaders believed that a strong PAR program would depend on having full-time release positions for Consulting Teachers (CTs), but that would be hard to do with only a small PAR program for veterans. However, by combining services for the two programs, they increased their options. Therefore, a typical CT’s caseload includes 12 BTSA novices and 1 PAR veteran, who has been identified as having serious problems and requiring more of the CT’s time and attention. With a team of CTs to serve both programs, the district can better match the subjects and grade levels of participating teachers and CTs.

Principals and PAR

Initially, San Juan principals—like their counterparts in other PAR districts—resisted PAR because they thought it would deprive them of the authority and flexibility they would need as instructional leaders. In fact, the San Juan principals’ role in PAR is key, since only they can refer an experienced teacher to the program. Whereas most other districts include an interim stage of investigation, during which a CT observes a teacher who has been referred to PAR and files a report with the PAR Panel, a San Juan teacher is immediately referred to the Panel if the principal’s evaluation includes two or more unsatisfactory ratings on five relevant standards. A union official who attends the Panel meetings ensures that due process has been met in the evaluation process. If the principals have followed the process correctly, the veteran teacher enters the PAR program and the CT becomes responsible for subsequent support and evaluation.

After seven years of experience with PAR, some San Juan principals embrace it, while others steer clear of it. The former believe that the program expands their capacity to improve teaching performance and, if that fails, provides a path for the teacher to leave the district. One principal said that after a year, principals realized that the CTs had more time and expertise to offer than a principal, who, as one said, “does not have the time and is not a peer and often isn’t an expert in any way. . . . These people were getting far more attention and support than they could ever have gotten before.” Other principals avoid PAR for various reasons. Some think that they should not turn over evaluation and dismissal responsibilities to teachers. Others think that the process of evaluation required for a referral is too time-consuming. Still others believe that referring a teacher to PAR introduces intense pressure and unnecessarily high stakes. They prefer to work to improve a teacher’s performance on their own, thus protecting the teacher from PAR’s sanctions. Such views and responses by principals may contribute to the small size of the veteran PAR program, for if all principals in San Juan were to systematically evaluate all teachers and refer those who were failing to PAR, the demands for CTs might well exceed the district’s current capacity. Expanding the program would ultimately depend on increased state funding, which is unlikely today.

Depending on State Funding

California funding made PAR possible in San Juan, but it also makes the district dependent on the targeted funds that the state provides. PAR has become part of the district fabric in San Juan and many there believe that it will be protected from cuts as long as district administrators continue to value it. As Duditch said, “PAR stands by itself….like an island by itself.” Because PAR is included in the union contract, it cannot be discontinued suddenly. However, California, like many other states, is coping with large losses of revenue and school districts will face significant cuts in state aid. There is the possibility that funding for PAR might be lost in the process, especially if the district must choose between jobs and PAR.