October 1, 2012

SAD 11 among six districts given aid to evaluate teachers

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- Six school districts, including Gardiner-based School Administrative District 11, will share nearly $25 million in federal money to create teacher evaluation systems, the Maine Department of Education announced this weekend.

The money will be spread among 17 Maine schools and will be used to set up systems to evaluate teacher performance, provide additional training and reward good teachers with more money, said David Connerty-Marin, director of communications for the department.

"There's a lot of concern that it's about firing bad teachers," he said. "It's about identifying good teaching, sustaining it, encouraging it and yes, if you have teachers who don't improve after supports, they should be helped to find other work."

SAD 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said the grant provides the district with "a wonderful opportunity" to improve teacher performance.

"Our budget is extremely tight, and this will give us additional money to provide professional development and money for evaluation tools," she said.

Her district consists of Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. Some, but not all, of the schools in the district will participate in the program. Other districts that will share the $25 million are RSU 16 (Poland area), RSU 19 (Newport), RSU 86 (Fort Fairfield) and school systems in Bangor and Millinocket.

The emphasis on improving teacher quality comes from both the U.S. Department of Education, which awards competitive grants; and the Legislature, which passed a law earlier this year that requires districts to develop or adopt evaluation systems. Connerty-Marin said pilot projects such as the ones that will be developed by the six school districts can be used as models for other districts, or local schools can choose to put their own evaluation systems in place.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said it's imperative for Maine schools to "attract and award excellence."

"I don't think public school teaching should be the only area of human life where people aren't evaluated based on their performance," he said. "We've got many, many great teachers and they should be rewarded for excellence and not paid based on how many years they've been in the classroom."

A federal grant awarded to Maine last year allowed 18 schools in five districts to do similar work. Locally, Regional School Unit 12, which includes schools in Somerville, Whitefield, and Wiscasset, participated in that program, according to the department.

Gov. Paul LePage has been especially critical of teachers and the teachers' union, calling on them repeatedly to provide additional training to teachers to improve performance. In a statement released by the department, LePage said the participating departments can develop models for use statewide.

"Both administrators and teachers want the same thing -- fair and realistic measures for performance, professional development and help in improving teaching skills, and a system that rewards excellent teachers," he said in the statement.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said focusing on teacher excellence will improve many facets of elementary, middle and high schools.

"Systemic changes to standards, curricula, instructional practices and assessment will achieve little if efforts are not made to ensure that every learner has access to highly effective teachers and school leaders," Bowen said in the statement.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com

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