More Oak Harbor teachers could face probation

Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, explains the changes to teacher evaluations due to the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation program to the Oak Harbor School Board. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, explains the changes to teacher evaluations due to the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation program to the Oak Harbor School Board.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

The state’s new teacher and principal evaluation program may be more trouble than it’s worth with its hefty time requirements.

Kurt Schonberg, human resources director for the Oak Harbor School District, and Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, presented the work in progress for the teacher evaluation portion to the Oak Harbor School Board at a workshop earlier this month.

A teacher and principal evaluation system is vital to school districts to prove whether teachers are doing what they should be doing and how they need to improve, Schonberg said.

The system is based on “the quantification of a good teacher,” Szalai said.

The district must begin implementing the new system in the 2013 to 2014 school year and have it fully implemented by 2016. This workshop was just the beginning of a long process that will continue through next school year, said Rick Schulte, superintendent.

The new evaluation system is for classroom teachers. The current evaluation system will still be used for librarians, speech pathologists, counselors, psychologists and other specialists.

The startup cost alone for the program is $4,000 to $7,000, Schonberg said. That figure doesn’t include the substantial amount of training and materials principals and teachers will need over the next few years.

The current evaluation system has two tiers: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. The new system would have four tiers, Szalai explained. With the new system, some teachers that are rated satisfactory on the old system would be put in the lower two tiers of the new system, placing them on probation.

Last year, three teachers out of 304 were rated unsatisfactory and put on improvement plans, Schulte said.

Currently, teachers are evaluated on long form every five years and short form for the years in between. The long form requires two 30-minute observation periods by the principal, plus any other unscheduled observations. The short form requires one 30-minute observation.

The new system will have a comprehensive evaluation once every four years with a focused evaluation each of the intervening years, Szalai said. These will require two 60-minute periods of continuous observation per teacher, which Schonberg described as “significant chunks of time.”

Another new requirement will be presenting student growth data. This means data from pre- and post-tests needs to be collected to show how well the teacher taught the curriculum.

“This is a can of worms, obviously,” Szalai said. Problem areas Szalai named were: how often would a teacher give tests and what kind of tests would they be? What about subject areas that are harder to assess?

“This doesn’t begin to address how much growth is enough growth,” Schulte said. Every student grows somewhat between September and June, but how much is enough? Schulte asked.

Teachers will also be evaluated on adhering to a specific instructional model, the details of which have yet to be determined but three models are being discussed. Currently, teachers choose their own teaching philosophy.

A change that may be tough for some teachers is that instead of using seniority to determine assignments and reductions in staff, the evaluations will be the determining factor. While seniority will still have an influence, it will be a lesser factor, Szalai said.

“Unions like seniority because it’s objective,” Szalai said. “You don’t have to worry about whether your principal likes you.”

While this adds concern that a principal may give poor evaluation scores to teachers whose personalities clash, it’s also a way to weed out teachers who’ve taught in the district for many years but who aren’t great teachers, Szalai said.

Shane Evans, principal of Oak Harbor Middle School, said the intent of evaluations is to improve performance.

“I don’t think it has enough clear guidance to make it a valuable tool,” Evans said of the new system as it is now.

“If it doesn’t help in some way, it’s not worth any expense of time,” Schulte said.

The Oak Harbor School District hopes to base its system on the pilot program Anacortes schools are participating in. Lance Gibbon, assistant superintendent, said principals from schools in pilot programs are “exhausted” from the evaluation process, although he said this could be from the extra work of being guinea pigs.

Schonberg, Szalai and others will continue to iron out the evaluation system for further discussions with the school board next school year.


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