The School District of the Chathams is in a good position to implement changes to state-mandated teacher evaluation reforms, Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa said.
Most facets of the new law, called the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act, went into effect almost immediately after Gov. Chris Christie signed it in August. Other parts of the law go into effect over the course of the 2012-13 school year.
"Last year the state had approved four different models" for teacher evaluations, LaSusa said, "including the Charlotte Danielson model, which is a pretty well-known one."
The Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching spells out the skills and competencies that outstanding teachers need in four domains: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities.
Over the 2011-12 school year, administrators, supervisors, and teachers in the district attended presentations sponsored by the Department of Education (DOE) on the four approved evaluation frameworks, and unanimously chose the Danielson model as the one they wanted to use.
"Without question, we thought Charlotte Danielson was the strongest of all the frameworks," LaSusa said. The Danielson model has been used in the district since 1997, "so we're ahead of the curve in that regard," he said. "All of our evaluation instruments are based on the Danielson model."
All administrators and supervisors attended a training session with a Danielson consultant in August, and the district will provide additional training to several teachers from each school in the model.
Board of Education Members Lata Kenney and Jill Weber, as members of the Curriculum Committee, will also be involved in the training. The Board of Education must approve the district's rubric for evaluating teachers, and that rubric must, in turn, be approved by the DOE.
"If you go with one of the models that the state has approved," LaSusa said, they are far more likely to endorse the board's decision. "That's one of the benefits of Danielson," though the district will need to include student performance indicators in their rubric. According to LaSusa, this can be anything from final exams to common assessments.
For the 2012-13 year, "we are going to dedicate most of our professional development time toward this," LaSusa said. The state requires each school to create a School Improvement Panel by Feb. 1, which "are going to essentially revolve professional development around teacher evaluation. That's a requirement of the law," LaSusa said.
The district has also re-issued teacher contracts to reflect the extended time it takes for teachers to reach tenure. Under TEACHNJ, it will take teachers and administrators four years to reach tenure instead of three, with at least two years of "highly effective" or "effective" ratings.
"We're trying to view this as an opportunity to renew our commitment to the Danielson framework and focus on learning and teaching," LaSusa said. "We're trying not to be too caught up in some of the contentious details about the law."
One such contentious detail is that, while the state has approved evaluation models for teachers, administrators and supervisors do not know what their evaluation model will be. "They [the DOE] say they're going to have them on the website by Oct. 19," LaSusa said at the Sept. 24 Board of Education meeting.