When we came upon the true Hernando County Teacher of the Year, we were told, we would know it.
We would experience the "wow" factor. One great teacher would clearly emerge from a field of very good ones.
Sure enough, as soon as Bethann Brooks came before the four of us on the selection committee, the Teacher of the Year contest didn't seem like a contest at all.
Brooks, 48, is a former full-time nurse who still works part time at her old job so she can bring up-to-date information to her new one — nursing instructor at Central High School.
Her list of volunteer activities at the school filled up a full page of her application. According to the recommendations we read, her bosses think she's a great teacher. So do all of the other Central teachers I've talked to since we picked Brooks in January.
So, it seems, the teachers unions have found the ideal poster person to illustrate the craziness of the state's new teacher evaluation system.
Brooks ended up with a merely "effective" evaluation when she clearly deserved to be rated "highly effective." Actually, she is the kind of teacher for whom an entire new category should be created, something along the lines of "super-duper."
In case you haven't kept up with this story, the new evaluations are partly based on a "value added" model, which, as the name implies, will eventually factor into teacher pay.
In Hernando, about half of teacher evaluations are based on test results. And some of you are probably thinking the following about the suit that Brooks and six other Florida teachers — and their state and national unions — filed against the state Board of Education last week: It's just another protest against teaching to tests, another attempt to duck accountability.
That's not it at all.
Teachers just want to be judged on the results of tests that cover subjects they teach, taken by students who have spent time in their classrooms.
As Lynne Webb, president of the teachers union in Pasco County put it: "They aren't opposed to merit pay; they just want the pay to be based on their own merit."
Reasonable enough, right?
But as it is now, tests are available in only a few subjects. Which is how Brooks, who teaches mostly juniors and seniors, came to be judged on the schoolwide reading scores of freshmen and sophomores.
This whole system was rushed into place two years ago by lawmakers eager to show that they could get tough with teachers.
It wasn't ready then. And considering the number of subjects that schools cover, it probably won't be ready before the 2014-15 school year, when the evaluations start factoring into pay.
Gov. Rick Scott needs to do something about this before then — at the very least lobby the Legislature to change the law during next year's session.
He's been trying to show that he's a friend of teachers recently. What better way than standing up for their right to be judged on their own work?