CONYERS -- Rockdale County principals and teachers will be sharpening their pencils over the next few months to get up to speed on a pilot program for evaluating staff as part of the Race to the Top grant program.
New teacher evaluations are part of Race to the Top, a federal initiative that will dramatically change the way school districts measure progress and set goals for student achievement. Forty-eight states have signed on to implement Race to the Top.
Rockdale received $2.35 million from a total of nearly $200 million in grant funds last year to be among 26 other school districts to implement Georgia's Race to the Top programs.
Gene Baker, RCPS assistant superintendent for school improvement, and Rich Autry, RCPS chief academic officer, provided an update for Race to the Top during Thursday's work session of the Rockdale County Board of Education.
On teacher evaluations, Autry some parts of Race to the Top are the same as what Rockdale schools are doing now -- including observation and performance data.
A new requirement will be surveys from kindergarten through 12th-grade students who will grade their teachers' performance and knowledge of their class subject.
The local school system will not administer the student surveys. That will be done by the Georgia Department of Education. The surveys will be developed with the grade level in mind. A sample survey for kindergarten students provided at the school board meeting has a smiley face representing a good mark for a teacher and a frowny face to indicate a poor score.
Autry said the pilot program is being pushed through this year from the state with principals required to learn the new evaluation program by December and teacher training beginning in January. The purpose of the pilot program is to provide data to state education officials to develop a statewide evaluation system with a goal of having it ready by 2014.
Autry explained the state did not notify the school system about the pilot program until Oct. 20. He, Baker and School Superintendent Dr. Samuel King notified principals of the pilot program last week.
"Not to speak negatively, but it certainly has caused a whirlwind where Gene and I collaborated with the superintendent in rolling it out to the principals last week. It was not an easy thing to do," he said. "In mid-year, the one thing you want to do is to maintain stability and consistency. Quite frankly, you want to let your teachers do what they do and let your principals work."
Autry said he and Baker will work to minimize any distraction from the pilot program and "do as much we can behind the scenes."
The board members had several questions on the new teacher evaluation standard. King said being a part of the pilot program may be hard but is also a desirable position to be in and reminded board members this will be the way to measure teachers and schools regardless.
"There are 26 systems in the state involved. The wave is that 180 school systems in Georgia will be required to function under the requirements you've just heard, though there may be some modification by that time," King said.
"The benefit of where we are as being one of the 26 systems is that we're able to be part of the decision-making at this point and not have it quote, unquote, done to us," he said. "Now, we're able to be a part of the decision-making, not as much as we would like to, but at least we feel that we benefit in the forefront."
There is state funding tied to teacher evaluations currently under consideration. Teachers scoring high for teaching effectiveness will be eligible for annual pay increase or bonuses of $10,000 for master teachers or $15,000 for teacher leaders.
The salary tie-in is a part of another component of Race to the Top to develop and retain teaching excellence in schools.
The Georgia Department of Education offers a Web site with an overview of Race to the Top in Georgia along with updates and resources. For more information, go to www.gadoe.org/RT3.