Op-Ed by Superintendent Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County Public Schools
As an educator, I have always worked to choose words that would make the biggest impact in my classroom and in my school. As a classroom teacher, I wanted to ensure my words would celebrate my students’ successes and challenge them to strive for more. As a principal, I chose words intended to help my staff grow and meet the needs of our students. So it was disheartening to see a recent headline that read Hillsborough schools to dismantle Gates-funded system that cost millions to develop. By using the word dismantle it is evident to me that some have misinterpreted our district’s vision of ensuring every decision we make is with our students’ future in mind.
It is simple. After 7 years with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the funding portion of the Gates grant, as planned, is coming to an end. From the beginning, we understood this work involved continuous assessment for improvement. Our district remains committed to applying the most effective components of the current model and modifying other parts in order to create an even stronger system of support for all instructional staff. This plan will in turn create the strongest classroom for students.
I want to make it clear, we are not abandoning, dismantling, or shelving our support system for our instructional staff. What we are doing is capitalizing on what we’ve learned. We will continue to utilize the knowledge gained by the peer evaluators and mentors and we will benefit from their strengths. Teachers have expressed they truly value timely feedback and support from their colleagues, which only advances teacher effectiveness. So our goal will be to position our teacher experts to better allow them to provide that authentic feedback and support.
There are clear benefits from our partnership that will remain with our district. The grant provided the opportunity to work with experts in the field and enabled our own teachers to create a common definition of effective teaching. Our teachers developed a set of tools which clearly defines effective teaching and practices for a variety of instructional roles. This framework, our evaluation rubric, has provided a common language that will foster professional growth moving forward.
Another clear success that has come from this partnership is the development of our mentor program. Educators who are brand new to the teaching profession in Hillsborough County have fully released mentors that provide quality, consistent feedback to them. After completing the two year program, many of these new teachers show evaluation scores that are on par with veteran teachers. The benefits are so clear to our school board, leaders across the district, teachers, and me that we would never want to shelve this program. In fact, it is our priority to offer a mentor relationship to more of our teachers who need it the most.
Our goal now is to take the value that our peers and mentors brought to their roles, make any necessary modifications, and create a system that can be sustained over time. I have asked a committee, consisting of teachers, peer evaluators, mentors, school leaders, district staff, union leaders, and others to review the current evaluation system. The committee will also develop possible models of support which meet the professional development needs of all 16,000 instructional personnel in HCPS, and create classrooms and schools where all students thrive.
In Hillsborough County, we continue to live out our vision by preparing students for life. One of our strategic priorities is to increase our graduation rate. As we see that increase over time, we will know we have put our efforts in the right place. We will never shelve, dismantle, or abandon those efforts.
Superintendent, Hillsborough County Public Schools