Hillsborough teacher evaluation system changes proceed

Published March 1, 2016

TAMPA — Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins will move closer today to reconfiguring the teaching reform system his predecessor developed in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gone will be peer evaluators, a cadre of observers that some teachers resented.

The more popular peer mentors will grow in number, from about 100 to 150.

The changes will mean a net loss of 110 jobs, translating into a savings of $6 million in state dollars.

But, Eakins said Monday, "no one will be laid off."

Some of the roughly 260 employees who are affected will return to teaching. Others can seek promotions, or fill existing vacancies in the district.

And 50 will be able to apply for yet another position as "teacher talent developer." These employees will spend half their time teaching and half training other teachers. They'll be paid from supplemental funds, including federal antipoverty money.

While he rejects the term "dismantle," Eakins has spent the last several months reshaping Empowering Effective Teachers, a program that was rolled out with great fanfare under predecessor MaryEllen Elia's administration.

Gates, who founded Microsoft, envisioned a sophisticated evaluation system that would create a hierarchy of teachers. Such a system would reward the best teachers, dismiss the very worst, and distribute talent among schools of all income groups.

Supporters said EET, as it was called in Hillsborough, was far better than the reforms later adopted by the rest of the state. Detractors said the peer evaluators demoralized teachers; and that despite the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars, low-income schools still did not attract enough top instructors.

Entering the picture when he took over as superintendent on July 1, Eakins said he preferred that teachers serve in supportive, "nonevaluative" roles instead of judging their peers; and that research backed him up.

Eakins plans to build on the changes that will come before the board today with model classrooms and more professional development at schools instead of off-site.

The changes, recommended by a committee Eakins assembled in the fall, do not affect this year's evaluations.

Marie Whelan, who heads the current evaluation program, will oversee the whole system, including the mentors.

The reshuffling comes with challenges, Eakins said. District leaders have to figure out how to support the mentors and teacher talent developers, now that Gates can no longer be counted on to pay for training.

And Eakins is trying to get better coordination among numerous departments — including human resources, professional development, leadership development and curriculum — that will be involved.

"It's really how everybody collaborates together to support the system for our schools," he said.

Separately, Eakins will ask board approval Tuesday to pay the Tucker/Hall public relations firm $30,000 to craft a strategic communication plan for the district.

"I think community relations are very important for any school district, especially in this era when parents have so many options," he said.

Eakins never replaced Stephen Hegarty, the former district spokesman who left after Elia was fired in the spring and now is spokesman for the Tampa Police Department.

That will happen shortly, he said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlensokol