Plattsbugh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short said the district is well on its way to having a new evaluation system in place.
Saranac Central School has been meeting regularly to devise a new evaluation system for teachers that complies with state regulations.
“I am optimistic we will have that document in place by Sept. 1,” said Superintendent Kenneth Cringle.
That bodes well for Saranac as the state of New York pushes districts statewide to come on board with new evaluations or have a system chosen for them.
Many North Country schools are not in the same position as Saranac and are feeling rushed with the time initially promised to reform evaluations suddenly cut short as the state tries to hold onto significant federal funding.
“Fortunately for Saranac with evaluations we have been proactive and have a committee that has been meeting regularly,” Cringle said.
New York state could lose $1 billion in federal money tied to Race to the Top, which, among other things, required reforms in teacher and principal evaluations. One such reform, tying educator’s success to student test scores, has caused much angst in the education community.
Schools that implement the system by Sept. 1 will be eligible for additional funds, though just what that means is unclear among school officials.
Schools have until Jan. 17, 2013 to put the program in place or face losing aid increases for two years.
“We have been working on the new evaluation since this summer, and we have not finalized it with teachers though,” said Northeastern Clinton Central School Superintendent Peter Turner. “I am not sure what this deadline means. It takes a while.”
He said there remains a great deal of uncertainty over what the new regulations mean.
“There are as many questions as there are answers at this point,” Turner said.
For example, the entire process was supposed to begin with a few districts testing it, Plattsburgh City School being one of them. Other districts would learn from those experiences.
“But now every school district has to come up with a new system,” Turner said. “I believe they should be field testing it as they said. Districts like Plattsburgh were given funds to do it and were given a year longer than us to work on it.”
Turner further worries that if Cuomo rolls out his own system then districts will have wasted a great deal of time and effort and have nothing to show for it. If that had been said from the beginning, he would understand, but the whole situation is changing rapidly.
“I hope we haven’t wasted a great deal of time,” Turner said.
Beekmantown Central School is also trying to sort through teacher evaluations.
“It seems he (Cuomo) has a carrot to wave to school districts that can reach an agreement on evaluations,” said Superintendent Scott Amo. “It seems to suggest if we comply there will be additional monies made available to those districts, but it is unclear how much.”
Then there is the prospect the state will develop a statewide evaluation plan with some districts a lot further ahead in their own processes than others are.
Beekmantown and its teacher association have not met face to face yet to discuss teacher evaluations, though the latter has been working behind the scenes, examining evaluation instruments.
“If we don’t begin our formal conversations we all risk being lumped in with the state evaluation,” Amo said. “But I think we will have enough time if the urgency through the governor’s language can be felt accurately through both of us.
“We really need to get working on this together.”
The urgency is also worrying groups such as the New York State School Boards Association.
“By linking sate aid increases to the new teacher and principal evaluation system, the governor is placing an even greater urgency on resolving this issue,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “We have serious concerns that the collective bargaining requirements in the current evaluation system will force fiscally strapped school districts to succumb to union demands just to avoid the loss of funding.”
Plattsburgh City School, on the other hand, is very close to having new principal and teacher evaluation systems in place.
“We have been working on this for some time,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short.
In fact, the district was among a select few awarded grant money to PILOT the process for other districts, a step that is suddenly being skipped in the state’s urgency to hold onto federal dollars.
“I am confident we can easily have it in place,” Short said. “We have more to finish but I feel we are in a good position.”
In fact, 120 teachers at the district currently fall under the new evaluation system in the works there. That tells Short the district is headed in the right direction, though he admitted it takes much longer to put all the pieces together than people realize.
“We do see it as highly valuable in changing instruction and the function of schools.”