Region 16 to undergo revision plan

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PROSPECT — Region 16 is undergoing a revision of the way curriculum along with the growth and evaluation of faculty members all ties together to form a unified plan to lead to higher student achievement.

“We identify what we believe are the most important principles of leading, teaching, and learning and by taking those elements and connecting them and interfacing them we believe the end product will be increased student achievement,” interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

The district has hired education consultant Patrick Flynn, founder of the firm Revision Learning Partnership, to lead the district in installing a comprehensive plan to solidify its curriculum infrastructure.

When James first arrived in the district in January, he explained he met with administrators and found there is no well-defined, cohesive plan in place. There were steps being taken, James said, but they were not in concert with each other.

So, James set forth to weave the patchwork steps being taken together in order to create a plan his successor can follow through on. Early in February, he presented the $51,600 proposal to the Board of Education, which approved it at a meeting later in the month.

“I think it’s a good step,” said school board Chair Priscilla Cretella, who added the plan will be a benefit to everyone in the district.

No new money or funds from student programs are being used to pay for the initiative, according to James. The district will pay for it through grants and money set aside for summer curriculum work. Money for the initiative will come from the current, 2012-13, and the 2013-14 budgets.

The district began crafting the plan this month and it’s expected to take about a year and a half or so to complete. Among the key elements of the proposal are the development of an instructional framework that will be used to align classroom instruction and targeted ongoing teacher growth, the creation by teachers of units of study that align with the Common Core Standards and identify what student should know and be able to do, along with developing a new model to evaluate teachers and administrators.

The issue of teacher evaluations has dominated the talk of education reform in the state recently with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed reforms, which include tying teacher tenure to performance evaluations rather than time on the job.

What the plan envisions, James explained, is an evaluation process for teachers that is meant to support and nurture their professional growth through observations and peer-to-peer instruction.

“It’s important it’s not about playing gotcha,” James said of the evaluations. “It’s about making somebody a stronger teacher.”

Rather than having a school administrator evaluate a teacher through a classroom observation once a year, the plan is to have more frequent observations that are more focused.

James explained an administrator would meet with the teacher before the observation to discuss what specific skills the teacher feels he or she needs to improve. Following the observation, he said, the teacher would be given immediate feedback or set up with a fellow teacher who excels at the skill the teacher is trying to improve for peer-to-peer instruction.

The idea is to have a more individualized approach to support the growth of teachers, James said. While more of the plan will focus on non-tenured teachers, he said, tenured teachers will also have more frequent observations.

“Just because you’ve earned tenure status doesn’t mean you can’t improve,” James said.

As far as administrators are concerned, the plan will define clear expectations and standards for them. James said the district must create and identify what it needs to do to help make administrators better than they already are.

James said the evaluations are about accountability and the district needs to equip its teachers and administrators with the skill set to be effective. Under the plan, the district will look to provide the necessary skill set through more long-term, interconnected professional development that goes beyond what is mandated by the state.

As it stands now, there is now plan in the district for continuing professional development for administrators, James said, and the issues addressed at professional development days for teachers don’t necessarily tie into each other.

Professional development needs to be ongoing, James said, with each program feeding off each other to ultimately help the faculty evolve in their positions.

“I think it’s something the district needs, and I think it’s something the district will definitely benefit from long term,” James said.

A lot of work stands between the district and the implementation of this revision including coaching for principals and assistant principals, fleshing out much of the details of the plan, and establishing the framework from which the plan will take its shape. When it’s complete, James said, it will ultimately be a plan that will help students in Region 16 become more successful.

“This is a huge amount of work,” James said. “But I believe success breeds success.”