Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 13, 2013

Principals examining priorities to make time for teacher evaluations

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— These days, Peru High School Principal Kenneth Hanson often finds himself coming to school earlier or staying later than usual to make sure emails from teachers, parents or colleagues don’t pile up and go unanswered.

He used to be able to take care of administrative tasks like that during the school day.

But now, he’s finding that he just doesn’t have the time, he said.

This year, the Indiana Department of Education mandated that schools across the state implement evaluations that measure teacher effectiveness.

Local administrators say the evaluations demand a lot of their time, but spending more time in the classrooms with their teachers is proving to be a valuable lesson.

Hanson said the evaluation was process was time consuming, “but it’s a good thing.”

Peru High School, like many other schools in the area, adopted the state’s evaluation model, which requires at least five visits to every teacher’s classroom each year.

That’s two one-hour visits and three 20-minute observations.

With 45 teachers at the high school, that means a minimum of 135 hours inside classrooms.

And sometimes, those five evaluations aren’t enough. Hanson said he and his assistant principal have to make sure they have an accurate picture of what a teacher can do in the classroom. If that means an extra observation or two, then they will do that.

Hanson said ideally he would fit at least one visit in every day.

“That would be a goal,” he said. “That would be great, but that doesn’t happen. Some weeks I schedule four or five evaluations. Others, none. Some afternoons I’ll have a meeting cancel, and I’ll try to fit one in.”

Northwestern Elementary School Principal Ron Owings said that’s just the life of an administrator.

His first two evaluations of the school year had to be canceled because an emergency came up moments before the scheduled observations.

“Things pop up, like a supply issue or a student who got hurt on the playground,” Owings said.

The key is learning to prioritize.

Owings said he’s learned to say “no” sometimes.

Parents or colleagues will often come to him with questions. There are times now he won’t respond to them for two or three days because the evaluations come first.

Hanson said schools have always done evaluations. It’s just the quantity of them that’s changed this year.

Before, teachers were on a rotation. Not every one was evaluated every year. That is no longer the case.

Owings said the new requirements hold his feet to the fire, which is a good thing.

“It was easy to make excuses before,” he said. “We let other things get in the way of the visits.”

Dave Barnes, director of communications for Kokomo-Center Schools, said he remembers being a full-time teacher years ago. There were times, he said, when he didn’t see an administrator in his classroom for two or three years.

Gone are those days.

Kokomo-Center Schools adopted its own evaluation model, which calls for fewer classroom observations. But the district has found a way to bring the classroom to administrators.

Part of their model requires teachers to create a portfolio that provides evidence of what they’re doing in their classroom and why, said Mike Sargent, director of evaluations for the district.

Teachers will take photos of classroom projects and make copies of lesson plans.

Sargent said the portfolios help him understand the content of the class and the preparation that went into the lessons. So when he goes into the class he doesn’t feel the pressure of trying to capture a hundred things in 20 minutes.

It allows him to focus on how the instructor is teaching, he said. Does the teacher reach all students? Is he or she differentiating instruction? Is the teacher asking the right questions?

“It’s about the entire teaching method, not just a walk through,” he said.

Another piece of the KCS evaluation tool is one-on-one meetings with teachers.

Principals have them with every teacher three times a year to discuss the evaluation and where they stand. “The conversations we’ve had have been great,” he said.

And those discussions on how to become better teachers are happening more often, Sargent said.

Teachers turn to one another to get pointers on reaching more students. At Central Middle School, where Sargent is still principal, teachers look to him for help, too.

“At least two or three times a day at Central, I have conversations with teachers about evaluations,” he said.

Has it caused more work for him? Yes. Any change requires a bigger time commitment, he said.

But he’s back to doing what he loves to do as a principal — serving as a curriculum coach of sorts.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the management side of his job, he said.

Owings agreed.

“We’re spending more time in the classroom than ever before,” he said. “There are some really neat benefits to that. You get more interaction with kids. I feel more in touch with our teachers and students.”