As teachers across the state call for Governor Lincoln Chafee not to renew Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s contract in June, Warwick Superintendent Richard D’Agostino is working to implement her mandates, including teacher evaluations, as best he can.
“[Her mandates] have become a part of the department’s supervision policy,” said D’Agostino, referring specifically to Gist’s policy of teacher evaluations determining employment, thus ending teacher seniority.
Gist has faced incredible backlash from teachers regarding this policy, most recently at Monday night’s education forum coordinated by National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP). At the forum, it appeared all 600 educators present were unanimous in their desire to see Gist go.
“There are concerns,” said D’Agostino. “As superintendent, I am part of the Superintendents Association. As a group, we provided feedback to the commissioner in regards to the evaluations and how the process is very time-consuming.”
He added that Gist has taken that feedback and is looking into ways to make the process more “user-friendly.”
D’Agostino explained that while he understands the need for teachers to be evaluated, the process, as it stands, is taking administrators in schools away from their administrative tasks so they can be in the classroom, conducting evaluations. He also said teachers have said the evaluation process is taking their time away from students.
“It is time-consuming on everyone,” admits D’Agostino. “I see the value of it, but we are trying to find a way to get the same results in less time.”
He believes finding a shorter process could alleviate some of the concerns. He also said, had the process been rolled out over a longer period of time, it may have worked better.
The goal now, according to D’Agostino, is to find out what people like, what they don’t like and find a way to make it better for everyone.
“I think that is what people are looking for,” said D’Agostino. “Our teachers are very dedicated to their students and this is taking a lot of their time.”
D’Agostino believes the majority of people feel the way he does and that they are “split” between understanding the needs for evaluations and finding this current process tedious.
Regardless of what happens in the future, D’Agostino will work to impliment Gist’s policies.
“She’s the commissioner and it’s what we have to follow. She issues the guidelines and we are subject to follow them,” he said.
Although no official statement has been released, the Governor’s Office said Chafee is supporting Gist at this time.