Following the money in Hillsborough: About those peer evaluators
With continued uncertainty over the Hillsborough schools budget and the Gates program, peer mentors and evaluators are in the hot seat.
The district's last payroll showed 265 evaluators and mentors who are paid a combined $14 million in salary alone. Those numbers get much higher when you include insurance benefits, travel (they drive all over the county) and a bureaucracy built around them that is almost like a separate school.
Shown another way: Superintendent Jeff Eakins' Powerpoint to the principals estimated it will cost $11.3 million to sustain the evaluator program this year and $6.1 million to pay the district's portion of the mentor program.
But what if it were all to go away?
First, there would be the need to find some other way to evaluate teachers, which determines their pay under the 2011 state law.
And, some argue, students would lose out on the benefits that come from a consistent, research-based system of giving teachers feedback so they can do the best possible job.
It's all in the evaluation rubric, said Christie Gold, a sixth year evaluator who also teaches new evaluators how to do their observations. Gold, a onetime English and journalism teacher at Gaither and Freedom high schools, was the district's Teacher of the Year in 2001 and also serves on the state's Education Practices Commission.
She spoke with Gradebook this week -- after work hours, to avoid an ethical conflict, but with the permission of her district bosses.
"As a parent, if you were to think of what are the top 10 things that you would want for your children to have in school? I can almost guarantee they're in that rubric," she said.
"You want your child to be safe in an environment with a teacher where he or she feels warm and nurtured, where the child can take intellectual risks.
"You want it to be rigorous. You want to know that a teacher knows your child, not just 10th grade English student. All of that is in the rubric.
"Is there good classroom management? Are there rules? Is there a culture for learning? I should be able to ask every student what they are learning and they should know. They should know how they are being evaluated.
"I think those are things that any parent should want for a child."
In her school visits, Gold said principals tell her that students are now doing things they could never do before. She's seen it with her own eyes, in classrooms. She's heard teachers speak about the benefits they've received from evaluator feedback.
Already the district has cut back on some observations for teachers who are about to retire, or who scored the highest ratings in their previous years.
That was always part of the Gates plan, and program manager Anna Brown said it happened last year after surveys of teachers.
Eakins has suggested cutting back more on the observations, so he can pare down the staff. Gold, a district employee since 1993, is against cutting back too much, because the whole point of the exercise was to give teachers the feedback they need to improve.
Under the pre-Gates system, Gold said, "I was 'perfect' for almost, it may have been every year in the classroom." New teachers, in their self-assessment, sometimes marked down areas where they felt they could improve. Their colleagues would tell them not to, that it was safest just to give themselves perfect scores.
"I went into this because I thought that was ridiculous," Gold said. "How ridiculous is it that you can't say, I need help in this area?"
It's a myth, Gold said, that peers don't want to teach any more, she said. Most of them do, and will.