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The Stonington Board of Education faces some tough decisions this month. On Thursday it begins work on a budget it can send to the town's Board of Finance with confidence that the spending plan appropriately addresses student needs such as narrowing the district's achievement gap, while also not overburdening taxpayers.
Superintendent of Schools Van Riley has proposed a budget with a 4 percent increase. While this is well above the current year's 2.5 percent increase, he attributes a substantial chunk of the hike to the amount of time necessary to adequately implement Connecticut's new teacher evaluation program. The administration attributes more than a fifth of the $1.3 million spending increase - $288,585 - to paying for additional administrative time to implement the detailed and labor-intensive program.
The program, which the state handed down without any additional money to pay for its implementation, aims to improve teaching and learning in the state's public schools. School officials in Stonington and throughout the state generally support the program's intent. At the same time, they worry about the amount of time needed to observe teachers at work, document those observations, meet with teachers both before and after the classroom observations and report all the required data to the state. In fact, Riley was asked by his administrators also to include an additional $24,000 to pay for support staff who would help with the program's data input and reporting requirements. Riley ultimately did not include that amount in his budget.
The University of Connecticut's Center for Education Policy Analysis studied the pilot rollout of the evaluation program in 14 school districts, including Waterford, in the 2012-2013 school year. Validating administrators' fears that the program could be a time burden was a Jan. 1 report on the UConn group's findings. Among principals' conclusions documented in the report: implementing the evaluation program meant less time for innovation and instructional leadership. One principal said the volume of work from the evaluation system was overwhelming and another who tracked his time said he devoted 60 percent of each day to the program.
Stonington school officials estimate that if implementing the evaluation program falls to a single school administrator, those evaluations could consume as much as 78 percent of that person's school-year work. This is among the reasons Riley's budget proposal calls for adding an assistant principal at Stonington High School, adding an assistant principal to be shared between the town's two middle schools and increasing the Deans Mill Elementary School assistant principal position to full time.
Despite facing the added burden on their time, principals and other administrators in Stonington and other districts continue to support the evaluation program and its intent. We, too, support the program that requires documented evidence and objectivity in evaluating teachers' effectiveness. If implemented properly, the program should support teachers and result in more inspired and higher achieving students.
It should come as no surprise, however, that increasing teachers' capacity to teach effectively, at least in part, means spending more money. Evaluation is only part of the equation. Another part is what should happen following evaluation: providing teachers with effective support and professional development to improve.
Stonington is not unique in facing the budget dilemma caused by this program. School boards throughout the region and state will be deciding this winter the individual ingredients deemed appropriate to allow their districts to implement the evaluation program while also remaining responsive to all taxpayers. The decisions will not be easy ones to make, but the reality is that some degree of increased spending will be necessary to do evaluations right.