TAMPA — Starting as early as this fall, every Hillsborough County schoolteacher will be subject to ratings by his or her peers.
The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved the move as part of a reform effort under way to improve schools through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The board's vote dedicates $360,000 to an online training course for the peer evaluation system that, by 2013, will help determine whether teachers qualify for tenure or merit pay.
Within a month or so, teachers will be able to see how the system works in real life. The optional six-hour course by national teacher evaluation expert Charlotte Danielson includes an overview and video clips from actual classrooms where similar evaluations have been used.
"We're looking at the way we can move 17,000 teachers to an understanding and a feeling of trust that we are all in this together, to work with them to becoming better professionals," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia. "It will really take us where we need to be."
Principals and peer evaluators will each be responsible for 30 percent of the ratings while student performance over three years will comprise the remaining 40 percent.
There are about 116 spots for peer evaluators and 663 teachers have applied. Those selected as evaluators also will get trained.
The board unanimously approved a contract to send the evaluators to an intensive training course at Harvard University this summer through a $3.2 million contract with Cambridge Education. The money comes from the $100 million Gates Grant.
The board also voted unanimously to pay the communications firm Hill & Knowlton $375,000 to spread the word about the reform efforts during the first 18 months of the seven-year plan. Gates Grant funds will also cover those costs.
Board member April Griffin said she hoped to see a big communications push toward teachers, some of whom fear the unknown.
"The teachers are the ones we need to reach more than anybody," she said. "Capture those people and use them as evangelists in the community."
Board member Jennifer Faliero lauded the contract, which encompasses communications and publicity in all forms.
"We're tickled," she said. "The one thing that has been our biggest priority is communication. To have someone manage this beast is very, very exciting."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.