'We will remove as much fear as possible'
The Pinellas school district will do its best to reduce the fear instilled by SB 736, the sweeping new law passed last spring that overhauls the teaching profession in Florida, interim Superintendent John Stewart said this afternoon.
Making his first public appearance outside the administration building, Stewart told about 100 people at a Pinellas Education Foundation luncheon that the law could create a "very tumultous year for us" because of the complicated issues surrounding teacher evaluations.
The law "has good things and bad things connected to it," Stewart said in response to a written question from an audience member. "But the first thing that it does is, it does instill fear in the district. So first of all, I'm going to say that we will look to ... erase that fear out of the system to the best of our ability. ... We will remove as much fear as possible."
"That said," he added, "we also want to make sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to do all the time."
Stewart said measuring teacher effectiveness is "probably the single most difficult thing you could tackle in school board personnel relations." He also said the notion of determining the "value added" by a teacher to student learning gains "sounds pretty reasonable."
"But it's now been turned over to a group of statisticians," he quickly added. "Anybody here good at statistics? If you are, I may be calling you. Because we'll need your help."
In prepared remarks, Stewart said Pinellas has seen strong growth in career and technical programs since he left the district in 2003, and needed to continue moving in that direction. He then answered about a dozen questions from the audience on a wide range of topics.
Asked about achievement gaps in literacy, Stewart said it would be his top priority.
“When we have our principals meeting, I’ll just repeat this statement: If you can’t read, you can’t do anything. Period," he said. "Now that said, we’re going to teach our kids to read, not just the ones who come to school ready to learn. We’re going to teach everybody to learn to read … It’s going to be the No. 1 priority with me. And I think it is with our seven board members, too."