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Pasco County's new principals tackle changes in teacher, school evaluations

NEW PORT RICHEY— David Huyck has his plate full as Pasco County schools begin classes on Monday.

The newly appointed principal of Chasco Middle School needs to get to know his students, staff and parents, building trust and collegiality while still familiarizing himself with the basic campus layout.

He's being trained in how to evaluate teachers in a new system that requires more time than ever before. Class size, tight budgets and curriculum changes are all on his plate.

And while all that's going on, Huyck faces a new evaluation model that makes principals more accountable for their school's performance. As with teachers, half the model relies on student test scores.

Other components include such things as the principal's ability to find and keep qualified teachers and appropriately manage the school's finances.

Good marks on the evaluations could lead to higher pay. A series of poor evaluations could cost a principal his or her job.

"The best principal-staff collaborations are built on what's common about what we do best, and that's educating kids," he said. "If we're working together and we're focused on the kids … the chips are going to fall where they may."

His attitude is pervasive among principals at all experience levels around Pasco County.

Those interviewed said they already have come to depend on student performance data to assess their schools' academic needs and areas in which more professional training is required.

Being in charge, they said, means they should be held responsible.

"I don't mind being measured by how my students perform at all," said Crews Lake Middle School principal Chris Christoff, the county's 2011 principal of the year. "If they don't do well, then obviously I haven't done my best."

A principal since 2004, Christoff said he always expected that school leaders and faculty members would be judged based on student outcomes.

"I don't remember a world without accountability," he said. "I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner."

That's why principals need to keep their attention on performance throughout the year and make changes as needed, he said.

It's no different than many other jobs.

"I started in the business world," said Jennifer Crosby, principal at Pine View Middle School since 2009. "I was put up against a guidepost for performance. It was never static. Each month there was a new goal to meet."

Sometimes you can't achieve it, she said. But all that means is an opportunity to discover ways to improve, she continued.

"If you look at it as more work, it becomes overwhelming," Crosby said. "I'm going to make it happen. … You worry about what is in your control."

That doesn't mean principals don't have any qualms.

Mitchell High School principal Jim Michaels, a principal since 2003, said he welcomes initiatives that have the goal of bettering instruction for students. Yet he acknowledged that not knowing all the specific details of the principal evaluation has raised lingering questions.

"We have an idea of some of the things that are going to be on it," Michaels said. "It's a concern."

But nothing to fear, he added.

"We are doing many of the things they are looking for," he said. "I don't think at all it's a mentality of looking for a way to find a new job for somebody. I think it's more about building and improving."

That's Nicole Reynolds' view.

Newly appointed to her first principal job at Shady Hills Elementary, Reynolds said the district has provided her ample training and paired her with mentors so that she will find success in her leadership role.

"I can get my questions answered," she said. "I feel very supported, and I feel that all of us are in this together."

Reynolds called herself a big believer in accountability and the growth model for assessing performance. So long as there's time to improve, and training for areas identified as lacking, it's a fair way to go, she said.

Students get graded that way. Teachers will be evaluated that way. Administrators should be, too, Reynolds suggested.

"I'm positive. It's going to be okay," she said. "We're going to roll with it."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco County's new principals tackle changes in teacher, school evaluations 08/20/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 20, 2011 2:32pm]

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