TAMPA — Be prepared for some hard conversations.
That was the advice Tuesday from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officials, as the Hillsborough County School District finishes its first year of rating teachers under a tough new evaluation system.
Teachers might call to complain about big drops in their final scores, program officer Ky Vu told School Board members. Some might be fearing for their jobs.
"And they start saying, 'Okay, I don't agree with this, I don't think that the district is justified in either letting me go or putting me on a performance development plan,' " he said at an update meeting. "It's imperative for the district and you to think about how to manage that well."
It's a big change for a district that has typically rated 99.5 percent of all teachers satisfactory, and one-third as perfect. Hillsborough is using its $100 million Gates grant to change those numbers over seven years, tying teacher pay directly to student performance in the classroom and on standardized tests.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said tough meetings have been going on all year as principals and peer evaluators help teachers rise to the challenge.
"Right now people are talking to (some) teachers and saying, 'This is what we are seeing, and I don't know if this is the right career for you,' " she said. " 'Are you going to do the things that need to be done so that we can help support a growth in your professional life?' "
Board members say they've already gotten some calls.
"At first, there was anxiety," said April Griffin, describing one conversation with a teacher. "In working with her evaluator and principal, it worked itself out."
Board member Candy Olson voiced worries about the long hours principals are spending observing teachers. Some have less time for the things that make schools run smoothly, such as connecting with kids in the cafeteria or chatting with parents before school, she said.
"I hope we're not burning people out," added board member Jack Lamb.
Elia said some of those stresses come with learning a new system. It will be worth it if teachers can be helped to improve, rather than being shoved out the door.
"They all want to get better, and we're helping them to do that," Elia said.
Vu said Hillsborough's success at working through problems with its teachers' union has set it apart from other reform efforts. And the Gates Foundation has high hopes to replicate its model across the nation.
But he said states or districts are making a mistake if they think it's possible to legislate such changes without focusing on how to make it stick.
"That takes a lot of training," Vu said. "I don't think you can just assume it's going to happen."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.