LITHIA — Newsome High School teacher Joseph Thomas, suspended for refusing to meet with a district-assigned peer evaluator, said he hopes for a compromise that will put him back in the classroom.
Thomas said he met with school district officials for more than an hour Monday and told them he would be willing to be evaluated by a middle school teacher with experience in grades 7 through 12. "As long as they're playing by the rules, I feel that I should too," said Thomas, an 18-year teacher.
If that cannot be arranged, Thomas was told he could be suspended without pay, fired and have 10 days to appeal. There was no comment Monday from the district, which suspended Thomas with pay pending an investigation into behavior officials are calling insubordinate.
News of Thomas' suspension generated a variety of reactions.
Supporters from as far away as New Zealand embraced his defiance. On Facebook the 43-year-old Thomas was hailed as "Joe the Teacher."
Closer to home, Brian Ayres, social studies department head at Brandon High School, said he worries about how teachers will be perceived if they resist efforts to evaluate them. He said he has heard from evaluators who worry about how they will be received.
Under the new system, Thomas was supposed to meet in October with a peer evaluator but refused, saying the peer, whose background was in elementary school and sixth grade, was not a good match for a high school teacher.
Hillsborough is in the second year of a $100-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to implement the evaluation and mentor system.
Since the system has gotten under way, school board member Candy Olson said she has heard from teachers who do not like it, and a far greater number who like it or are neutral.
Some Advanced Placement teachers say they should be evaluated only by AP teachers, she said. "And I've had other teachers say it's not all that different."
Member Stacy White, who criticized the Gates project, said Monday he still could not stand behind Thomas' action.
"I think it's going to shake things up," White said. "But I do not condone that teacher's behavior, his refusal to cooperate. I'm not looking to create an all-out upheaval."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3356.