Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Hillsborough teacher firings are rare under new evaluation system

TAMPA — After years of planning and training, observation and deliberation, the first wave of firings has begun under a teaching-improvement project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The tally: Three teachers.

Not hundreds, as was discussed briefly in 2009. Not 18, as Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia estimated last summer; or four, as the School Board meeting agenda indicated a few days ago.

The three were notified by hand-delivered letter that, subject to a board vote on Tuesday, they would be suspended without pay and Elia would seek to have them fired.

Each of the three — Sandra Golden of Spoto High School, Peter Monteiro of Mintz Elementary School and Mary Borne of Shaw Elementary School — received two consecutive unsatisfactory performance ratings, the letters said.

None could be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Two consecutive "U" ratings have long been grounds for the district to begin termination proceedings.

What makes these three cases different is that they are the first to make it all the way through a new evaluation process with a seven-year, $200 million program funded by the Gates Foundation and the district.

The program — which district officials call "Empowering Effective Teachers" or EET — combines three assessments: One by a peer evaluator, one by an administrator and a "value-added" component that is based on student performance data.

While district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the issues in all three cases were the unsatisfactory ratings, the letters all began: "I have been advised that you have engaged in a pattern of behavior" resulting in the low ratings.

Neither Hegarty nor Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the teachers union, could explain the reason for that wording.

School district attorney Tom Gonzalez, when asked about the letters during Tuesday's meeting, said, "All discipline is based on behavior."

More specifics will be introduced when the cases go to hearings, he said. At those hearings, where they can be represented by lawyers, the district will have the burden of proving the teachers should be fired.

While the law requires the district to notify state certification officials, Gonzalez said the burden to revoke their certificates would be even higher.

More than 14,000 teachers work for the district, making the number facing termination far below what anyone had expected when the district embarked on this closely watched experiment in education reform.

But almost since the EET project began, Hillsborough officials have said they would rather help teachers improve than fire them in large numbers.

In many cases, they have said, teachers who got unsatisfactory ratings in the first year were able to improve in the second year, thanks to feedback they received after their observations and training that is being made available as part of the program.

When that doesn't happen, officials said, teachers generally resign, retire or take other non-teaching jobs in the district.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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