Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist decided early on in her tenure that educator evaluations would be a priority of her office. And while many educators are fearful that the system is too cumbersome and time consuming, it seems that Gist is holding strong to her pledge to change the way Rhode Island grades teachers.
She is focused on the desired outcome of designing a system aimed at evaluating both teachers and principals with the purpose of improving learning across the state. She has not revised her agenda to implement the valuation system statewide this year despite union cries that it is not ready and to do so would have negative, rather than positive, outcomes for students.
As Gist observes, the state has listened. The evaluation system has been streamlined, reducing in-classroom visits asked of principals and the volume of paperwork required of both administrators and teachers. Further, Gist is looking for the system to evolve with time and experience. This plan will not be cast in concrete, she says.
That’s good, because the unions do have cause for concern. There will be a learning curve during full implementation, and districts need to be able to amend the evaluation as needed. At a recent School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Bernard Di Lullo conceded that the evaluations are indeed time-consuming, and he fears what will come of the system when Race to the Top funding dries out. Still, the administration and Johnston educators have come to the table to ensure that our students have a voice in the discussion. For now, the district has navigated the new system successfully.
We remain cautiously optimistic that the new educator evaluations will be a good thing in Rhode Island schools. We have heard the process described as productive and rewarding, as teachers and administrators came together with the common purpose of improving our schools. That’s a positive and an important step to improvement.
Is Gist’s goal of ensuring Rhode Island has an excellent teacher in every single classroom achievable?
Maybe not, but we must try.
Gist has set the bar high.
“Our teachers are first and foremost professionals. As professionals, teachers need and deserve the latitude and the responsibility to make decisions within their classrooms. Our goal is to create a climate in every school where teachers can be innovative, creative, and accountable for results,” she said in her State of Education Address Tuesday.
Do we want anything less?