By Norwalk Board of Education Member Sue Haynie
NORWALK, Conn. – Good evaluations mean something. In the February 2013 edition of the Vanguard, the Norwalk Federation of Teacher’s (NFT) monthly newsletter, I have been harshly criticized by NFT leader Bruce Mellion because of my advocacy for having Norwalk become a pilot district for the new statewide System for Educator Evaluation & Development (SEED). Worth noting, the decision to become a pilot was made by unanimous vote of the BOE and, in addition, a new educator evaluation system is required in order for the State of Connecticut to conform to its NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waiver. SEED is an evaluation system for both teachers AND administrators. Mr. Mellion himself, for the last few years, has lamented the fact that the administrators had a weak evaluation process, which he viewed as unfair and sorely in need of improvement.
Weak evaluations mean something. A majority of our teachers, principals, and administrators are hard-working, caring professionals who love what they do and love kids. The SEED evaluation results are not tied to salary, benefits or bonuses and, both teachers and administrators remain protected by the Teacher Tenure Act. The SEED evaluations are designed to help good educators become even better and to help identify those educators who may want to consider another field of work. Recently, Norwalk schools won a tenured teacher termination case, the first time a tenured teacher had been terminated in Norwalk since 1973. The termination was vigorously pursued through the courts by the union, not for lack of egregious actions on the part of the teacher, but mainly because administrators had failed to follow appropriate evaluation guidelines. Norwalk won, but the case spanned four years and cost $250,000. If Norwalk had lost due to lapses in evaluation protocols, as the union expected, Mr. Mellion estimated that costs would climb to over $700,000.
Well designed evaluations are robust and inclusive to all stakeholders. The Negotiations and Personnel Committee, of which I am chair, met in late January to receive updates on the SEED evaluation process in general and the parent survey portion in particular. Both Mr. Mellion and the head of NASA, the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association (administrators union), were present; it was stated that the evaluation pilot was moving along better than expected. During the meeting, we were presented with the Norwalk Parent Survey document. Questioning revealed that there had been no parent input in this Norwalk Parent Survey. Odd as it sounded, we were told that parent involvement in the design process of the parent survey was not required. Although a pilot district, where changes are to be expected, we were told that student surveys weren’t included. However, the next day, discovered within the SEED documents, was language that said parent representatives “may” be included in the development of surveys and, in fact, if Governance Councils exist at a school, parent input “must” be included. After a month of foot dragging, this week, a few parents involved in Governance Councils at three schools previewed the finished Norwalk Parent Survey. They were given copies of neither the robust state parent or student survey models nor the five-page question bank. The Norwalk Parent Surveys, with this negligible level of parent input, will be rolled out later this month. We should make time, this Spring, to ensure that Governance Councils, the PTOC (Parent Teacher Organization Council), parents and students will be apprised, informed and given a chance to provide true input in the survey development in preparation for the 2013/14 school year.
Evaluations are designed to increase student achievement. Parent/stakeholder surveys account for 10 percent of the evaluation for both teachers and administrators and are given at the whole school level, not at the teacher level. An additional 5 percent of the evaluation is based on whole school learning or student feedback. Teachers will choose just ONE survey goal to pursue as part of their evaluation; administrators will meet just ONE target related to stakeholder feedback as part of theirs. This 15 percent of parent/stakeholder feedback is one indicator among the many indicators that make up the remaining 85 percent of the evaluation. One could surmise that Mr. Mellion does not want parent or student input in the evaluation process. However, he would be the first to point to a lack of student motivation or to a lack parent’s involvement in their children’s education as one of the main causes for poor student achievement. Mr. Mellion would be the first to rally parents to fight for more funding for the schools during budget hearings. Interestingly, when it comes to meaningful participation of parents and students in a process that is specifically designed to increase student achievement and educational excellence, for Mr. Mellion, mum’s the word.