TAMPA — Tenure reform may be off the agenda this spring for most Florida teachers, but accountability efforts are moving full-steam ahead in Hillsborough County.
This week, the district named about 100 teachers to serve as peer evaluators under its seven-year reform effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Those evaluators, culled from a pool of more than 600 of the district's top teachers, fill a critical piece in Hillsborough's efforts to improve teacher effectiveness with a $100-million grant from the foundation.
By winter, the new evaluators will rate each one of the district's 12,500 teachers on a five-point scale, from "below expectations" to "master teacher." By 2013 those ratings — in combination with principal evaluations and student test scores — will serve as the basis for both merit pay and termination.
Hillsborough was the only district in Florida that would have been shielded from Senate Bill 6, the far-reaching tenure reform bill that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last week.
Officials said legislators had granted that exemption largely due to similarities of the two efforts. The district plans to carry out its reforms on a longer time frame, and veterans can opt out of a new, merit-based pay scale.
But Hillsborough officials minced few words last fall in telling the foundation that their existing evaluation system had done a poor job of identifying both struggling and excellent teachers.
A full one-third of teachers received a perfect rating in 2007-08, and 99.5 percent received a score of "satisfactory" or "outstanding," they said. Just six tenured teachers have been dismissed for subpar performance since 2006, along with 139 nontenured teachers.
Whether the district can change those numbers — flagging top teachers for merit pay and focusing mentoring efforts on the weaker ones — will depend in part on the new evaluators.
To qualify, they needed outstanding evaluations and at least five years' experience. They were interviewed by panels that included district administrators, teachers and union representatives.
But as newly minted teacher evaluators, their education is just beginning.
Between now and the fall, said project director David Steele, they will receive intensive training by consultants from Cambridge Education, visiting classrooms to see teachers in action.
"They will go with groups of trainers, to make sure they are seeing what they're supposed to see," he said.
Each evaluator will serve for two or three years before returning to their teaching duties. "Mentor evaluators" will carry a reduced load of new teachers, and the rest will support and evaluate veterans.
Some details in the program — including a promised stipend of $5,000 — must still be worked out, since they involve contractual issues.
"The rate of pay hasn't been negotiated yet," said Nick Whitman, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association union. "It's been advertised, but we haven't negotiated it yet."
Mentor Barbara Miraglia, a veteran social studies teacher at Giunta Middle School, said she was thrilled at the prospect of helping to train a generation of new teachers.
Over the years, Miraglia said she has seen rookies who needed more support but didn't get it.
"And two or three years in, they're dying," she said.
Miraglia said she has no intention of ending her own teaching career, and plans to return to the classroom following her stint as a mentor.
"I can't imagine not seeing my students every day," she said. "But I will be helping someone else to strengthen their career, and in turn helping all of the students they'll be teaching."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.