TAMPA — It was like the first day of school, right down to the name tags and the superhero stickers on the tables.
Dozens of new peer evaluators — Phase 2 of a grand experiment for the Hillsborough County School District — filtered into the training room Wednesday, some a bit tentative, all eager for information.
"I'm apprehensive because this is very new and I don't know exactly what it will be like," said Toni Griffin, who spent 11 years as a school guidance counselor.
"But it is a new challenge for me," said Griffin, now a foot soldier in the district's Empowering Effective Teachers program. "I like the ideas. This is progress. We are moving forward."
For close to an hour, the new recruits were reassured that they made the right choice, leaving the relative comfort of the classroom for life on the road and grading their colleagues on how well they do their jobs. Everyone from School Board members to the head of the teachers union told them they are a crucial resource in the classroom and in the greater effort to improve public education.
"You have the most important job in the whole county," said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. While acknowledging that sometimes the evaluators will be resented or even vilified, she said, "The whole state and the whole nation are depending on us to get this right."
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program seeks to train and nurture beginning teachers while taking a more critical look at those already on the job.
The experiment has taken on greater significance as the state moves away from teacher tenure and toward performance-based pay and promotion.
The district started last year with 74 peer evaluators for teachers. This year they are adding 56, enough to cover adult education, guidance counselors, media specialists, and specialists in prekindergarten and technology.
Workloads are expected to decrease for the evaluators and in the early months the rookies will be accompanied by second-year evaluators. In other words, the peers will have peers.
And the new evaluators will have had the experience of being on the teaching end of the process.
That knowledge was comforting to Anne Fleming, a new evaluator who used to teach second grade in east Hillsborough.
She said it was hard for some teachers at her school to go through the process at first.
"But I think everybody stepped up their game a little bit," she said. "Our school became more collaborative. I think most teachers want to do better and be better, and are looking for new ideas."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]