Changes take shape for Hillsborough's peer evaluators and mentors
Major changes are happening to Hillsborough County's teacher evaluation system, directly affecting more than 100 employees.
The School Board will vote Tuesday on Superintendent Jeff Eakin's plan to name a General Manager of Performance Evaluation. Reporting to that person will be instructional mentors and teacher talent developers. Employees in the second group will spend half their time teaching and the other half helping other teachers.
While it is not yet clear how many people will hold these jobs, Eakins' agenda item says the district can save more than $6 million by eliminating 110 existing peer and mentor positions. The document used the term "reclassification," raising the question of where the savings will come in if all 110 people will be absorbed into the new positions.
Two district employees contacted the Tampa Bay Times over the weekend, saying mentors were told of the changes late last week. The Times has requested a copy of any memo that went out, along with a report from the Talent Development Committee that Eakins assembled late last year. The committee was tasked with advising Eakins on how to proceed with Hillsborough's experimental system, which has received national attention because of the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Changes have been expected for months, as a seven-year grant from the Gates group is winding to a close. The district expected to receive $100 million from Gates, but that amount was reduced to about $80 million. Eakins has said in the past that the district was picking up costs previously paid by the foundation. He has also said that, while the current model has peers observing and evaluating teachers in other schools, current research favors a more supportive, non-evaluative role for peers.
One of the mentors who contacted the Times, Ryan Haczynski, said he and his colleagues do not understand why Eakins would disrupt the mentoring program, which is often described as the most clearly successful component of Evaluating Effective Teachers.
"When the program started, new teacher retention was approximately 60 percent and roughly the same as the national average; now it sits at 90 percent, a full 50 percent increase, undoubtedly saving the school district thousands if not millions of dollars by not having a constantly rotating cast of new teachers who need to be recruited, hired, trained, etc.," Haczynski wrote in an email.
"We also have lots of data to show how the constant support of the mentoring program has accelerated new teachers' practices faster, thereby fostering student achievement more quickly in turn. I can't imagine how a new person unfamiliar with such a robust program with numerous moving pieces can simply step in and take over while juggling seven other "specific duties."
Haczynski, and the other letter-writer, also criticized the way news of the change was disseminated.
"The superintendent claims to be ushering in a new age of transparency in all dealings with stakeholders compared to his predecessor, yet our leadership team simply received the news suddenly this past Thursday afternoon," he wrote.
"It wasn't even one month ago when they stood before the entire mentor cadre and told us all that the mentoring program would stay in place (though our roles would be augmented slightly), primarily for the fact that it has been a tremendous success for the district and has overwhelmingly benefited new teachers and their students in the process. And yet, our leadership team was simply told that the program would be shifted out of Professional Development and over to Human Resources under the direct guidance of this new General Manager position.
"At no point were the mentors solicited about this potential change, about how it could adversely affect our work, the success of the program, etc. We had no previous communication from either district or union leadership, and one would hope that this would have been granted to a group of highly intelligent, motivated teachers who are dedicated to the success of new teachers and the impact these burgeoning educators have on their own students' achievement."
We will update this report as more information becomes available.