TAMPA – Hillsborough County teachers have been getting a lot of information about the district's seven-year, $100 million reform effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But they have a lot of questions, too. That much was clear Wednesday at Chamberlain High School during the first in a series of teacher forums on the effort.
Under the Gates plan, the district will revamp its evaluation system for teachers and principals, and develop a corps of peer evaluators to help rate new and veteran teachers. Those evaluations will form the basis for a performance pay system — optional for veterans and mandatory for new hires —- that will allow talented younger teachers to vault ahead on the salary scale.
About 125 teachers turned out to hear an hourlong presentation followed by written questions. District officials took the opportunity to bat down rumors.
Paying for the reforms won't be a problem, said chief information officer David Steele, who's coordinating the program.
It's true the district has pledged to spend $102 million in additional money on Gates-related reforms over seven years, he said. But much of that money will come from other grants, or from existing programs and plans such as the $16 million already earmarked to upgrading technology.
Tenure rules won't be altered. But the district will urge principals and peer evaluators to "be more judicious in awarding tenure," said assistant superintendent Wynne Tye.
And principals will get full evaluations in the new system, with teachers taking part in 360-degree reviews, said assistant superintendent Lewis Brinson.
"To make sure they become effective leaders," he said. "Give us some feedback."
Afterward, teachers said they found the presentation useful.
"There are clearly a great many details to be worked out," said Andrew Jacobs, an English teacher at Jefferson High School.
He wanted to know more about the performance pay scale — which hasn't yet been devised and won't be introduced until 2013 —- and its effect on pensions. He also worried about the impact of taking high-performing teachers out of their schools to become peer evaluators.
Sue Anderson, who teaches at Dorothy Thomas Special Day School, said she had hoped to hear more about how the Gates reforms would affect special-needs students.
"They need a plan where they can aim for their future," she said, criticizing systems that require children to master material beyond their capacity. "We've got to give them skills."
But veteran teacher Elaine Fess of Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary said she was pleased by what she heard about the planned merit pay system.
"This is something I've felt the last 30 years, the unfairness of it," she said of the current pay scale. "And I know there are a lot of teachers who feel that way. This (change) I think is a good thing."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.