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A Decade of Excellence and Collaboration: Local 1274/D219 Peer Assessment & Review Program

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

When the North Suburban Teachers Union (NSTU, Local 1274) approached district leaders a decade ago with a unique approach to supporting and evaluating new teachers, they knew something special could come from the collaboration. But the result was even better than they could have hoped for, with teachers, students, and the entire district sharing in the benefits.

This year, the union and Niles Township Community High School Dist. 219 are proudly celebrating 10 years of successful partnership in the Peer Assessment and Review (PAR) program. Nearly 200 educators have completed this innovative program, which was the first of its kind in Illinois.

"Our PAR program is a wonderful example of meaningful collaboration between the union and our district,” said NSTU President and Niles North teacher Pankaj Sharma. “This unique mentoring and evaluation program helps teachers new to our district become more effective quickly because of the consistent and meaningful feedback they receive from veteran colleagues. It’s about teachers learning from and supporting one another."

Put simply, PAR is "teachers helping teachers"

Here's how it works. Newly hired educators to District 219 are automatically enrolled in the PAR program, which replaces the traditional, state-required evaluation system for new teachers. During their first four years, the educators receive consistent one-on-one support and feedback from their assigned PAR consulting teacher. Consulting teachers are experienced educators in the district who have been selected by a union/district committee to mentor and evaluate their new colleagues. To ensure they can devote the time needed to provide full-time, effective support, consulting teachers are released from the classroom for two years.

“PAR consulting teachers tailor programs to the growth needs of each new teacher,”said Ryan Murphy, a math teacher at Niles North High School and former PAR consulting teacher. “Working with the mentor, mentor committee, and administration, PAR consulting teachers have the ability to create unique support networks and ensure that new hires are meeting the vision of their department and schools."

”Union members say PAR has elevated the traditional evaluation system by enhancing professional skills, developing teacher leaders, and establishing professional relationships. For many newer teachers, that support can be the difference between continuing a teaching career or leaving it."

“It’s fair to say that without PAR, I’m not sure I would still be a teacher,” said Katie Weston, union vice president, PAR graduate, and teacher at Niles North High School. “I was lucky enough to participate in the inaugural PAR program, and I fully credit my experience with making me the teacher I am today. Its continuous cycle of support, feedback, reflection, and opportunities for collaboration with my consulting teacher was an incredible experience that I wish every teacher had a chance to be a part of."

Alexander Gutierrez, a business and technology teacher in his second year at Niles West High School, agreed. “I've worked in a district that had an impersonal, boilerplate evaluation process and another schooling system with no evaluation process at all,” he said. “The PAR program is immensely more involved and helpful than my previous experiences. I highly value this type of onboarding because it helps me recognize my strengths and focus on ways to improve."

PAR has helped Dist. 219 educators develop strong, life long career skills, and it shows. recently ranked the district 9th Best in Illinois. In 2019, US News and World Report ranked Niles North (49th) and Niles West High Schools (50th) Best in the Nation. And in 2018, Chicago Magazine ranked both schools among the top public high schools in Cook County (West 8th, North 13th).

“I cannot think of anything in our district that has had a more positive impact on teaching and learning in the last 10 years. It truly represents the best of what we can be as professionals - and provide for our students - when our union and district work together,” said Sharma. “Our union looks forward to another decade of collaboration and excellence through our PAR program.”

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