Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi feels vindicated, not that that was what he was looking for. More importantly, Ginolfi questions the teacher evaluation system Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist has made a keystone to improve schools across the state.
Contrary to Gist’s premise that a new form of evaluation will result in better teachers and better students, Ginolfi says it will have the opposite effect.
“It’s a negative. It’s not helping,” Ginolfi said of the system – RI Model – that the Warwick department has implemented on a pilot basis for statewide use next year. Ginolfi said the model, which is being funded with the $75 million Race to the Top grant won by the state, involves “mounds of paperwork” and takes school administrators and teachers away from their jobs.
“It’s detrimental to them,” Ginolfi said of teachers. “It has the opposite effect. They can’t do the extra things [for students] anymore because there is so much work.”
Ginolfi has questioned the value of revamping the evaluation from the start and it is his prediction, when Warwick and Jamestown agreed to become pilots for a new system, that appears to have become true.
“I had heard rumors they were going to do just what they wanted to do,” Ginolfi said. Ginolfi passed that belief to fellow members of the District Evaluation Committee (DEC).
Chaired by Stephen Lowery, the district’s federal program coordinator, the committee has met regularly to critique the system as well as get input from consultants contracted by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
According to the plan, Pilgrim Principal Dennis Mullen and Hoxsie School Principal Colleen Mercurio were assigned to the project, with their salaries and benefits being paid with Race to the Top funds.
According to Lowery, after a full day’s work, starting at 8:30 a.m. and not ending until 4:30 that afternoon, the DEC finalized its report on March 29. Copies of it were circulated to members the following day for review before submission on Monday, April 2, to RIDE, in compliance with the timetable. However, the same day the DEC was reviewing its conclusions, RIDE posted guidelines for the new system.
“People here were upset,” Superintendent of Schools Peter Horoschak said yesterday. He said that it appeared after all that Warwick had put into troubleshooting the new system, that RIDE knew what it wanted to do anyway.
“It was unfortunate the timeline was not honored,” Lowery said.
He said there is similarity between the Warwick report and what RIDE posted. Lowery concludes that, because RIDE consultants were a part of the process, including focus groups, “they had access to the same data.”
Yesterday, Gist was scheduled to speak to the DEC as well as teachers and administrators who wished to attended an open meeting at Toll Gate High School to speak about the evaluation process. Because of the Beacon deadline, the meeting could not be covered for this story. However, prior to the meeting, RIDE spokesman Elliot Krieger said the department is looking for the Warwick data and it will be used in finalizing the system.
“We will be learning from them what works well,” he said.
He said Gist is looking for more input as well as to “streamline” and make the system more efficient using the Warwick report. Further, he said, the system is not to be set in stone and “may change every year.”
In an April 9 e-mail to Lowery, which was released by Warwick schools, Gist acknowledged the premature release of information about the model “has caused a great deal of frustration for Warwick leadership and educators.”
She writes that was not how she had planned it, although to ensure that stakeholders across the state had accurate information, “I felt RIDE needed to release a preview of the model changes under discussion at the time.” She says none of the changes would have been possible without the feedback from Warwick teachers and leaders.
“Without the insight of Warwick educators, we would not have been able to understand what was needed to improve the model for all Rhode Island educators.”
In the opening lines of its report, the DEC observes that even with all the support the district has received, plus Warwick’s experience with the RI Model, educators “encountered a variety of difficulties.”
“We are concerned about the sustainability of this model, especially considering the required investment of time, effort, personnel and fiscal resources during this full implementation pilot year.”
Lowery pointed out that about 700 teachers, all principals, assistant principals and department heads, were involved in implementing the system. According to the projected Race to the Top budget, Warwick schools are to receive $1.5 million over five years. Of that, $712,685 is budgeted for this fiscal year and $584,039 next year.
Krieger said the statewide total for the teacher evaluation portion of the project is $10.9 million. He was researching how much of that has already been spent and the amount spent on consultants.
Apart from the time needed for evaluations, and what it takes away from students, Ginolfi asks what will happen once Race to the Top funding is gone.
“It looks to me like another unfunded mandate,” he said.
Teachers are not alone in feeling the impact, he continued. Because of the amount of paperwork, “Administrators can’t do their jobs running schools,” he said.
The DEC report, which is on the Warwick Schools website, uses the words “cumbersome” and “time-consuming” to describe aspects of the RI Model. Among observations the report finds that the school culture and discipline “are suffering due to the time demands of this evaluation system; educators being evaluated using this system are stressed and overwhelmed and that implementation of the RI Model has negatively impacted teacher and administrator effectiveness and student learning.”
But, Ginolfi feels RIDE is moving ahead with the plan anyway.
“It’s like a plane and it’s already in the air,” he said.