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Elia lays out Gates plan for Chamber members



TAMPA -- MaryEllen Elia stood before a room of Tampa's business leaders and asked a simple question that no one answered:

"Who among you would tell your child, 'I think you should be a teacher.' People don't do that."

The point, she explained, is central to a new, 7-year district-wide reform effort funded largely with a $100-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since Hillsborough County became one of four districts awarded the grant, Elia has made the rounds explaining what district leaders hope to accomplish with the money.

In order to improve how students learn, teachers must be consistently good at what they do, she told the group. Then, she explained the new plan for recruiting, evaluating and paying teachers.

Those dining at the $35-per-person luncheon hosted by Chamber member LarsonAllen at Maestro's in downtown Tampa seemed to listen intently. Their inquiries were cordial:

Will students have a say in teacher evaluations? one asked.

The principal evaluations will draw input from parents, teachers and students, Elia explained. The school district is still working on the teacher evaluations instrument.

How will the money be disbursed? another asked.

Twice a year, over the course of seven years, Elia said. And the release of funds will be connected to the district's ability to meet certain benchmarks.

Is the money mostly going toward salaries? Or will it be used for programming?

Right now, Elia answered, the money is mainly being used to establish the infrastructure of the program. But the reforms will necessarily mean that some of the non-grant money that is already being used by the district for things like salary incentives for getting masters and doctoral degrees will be rerouted to pay for tuition reimbursements instead.

Blythe Ebbert, an invited guest of a chamber member, said she was encouraged to hear the reform plan. A mother of two middle schoolers in the district, Ebbert said she likes the idea of giving great teachers more incentives to remain in the classroom, which the pay plan hopes to do.

And while she hopes the program is as transforming as administrators suggest it could be, she wouldn't be surprised to still find some less-than-perfect teachers in the ranks.

"That's part of life," she said. "you have good teachers and bad teachers, good bosses and bad bosses."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:51am]


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