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Evaluating Teachers & Building a New Elementary School on Olathe School Board Agenda This Week

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise | Photo Credit: 123rf stock image | Logo Credit: Olathe School District

Olathe School District’s Board of Education will meet Thursday, May 3, at 6 p.m.

In addition to routine agenda items — such as purchasing new textbooks and approving student trips to the International Thespian Festival and the Science Olympiad National Tournament — board members will discuss construction of a new school and the district’s teacher evaluation process.

During Thursday night’s meeting, the school board will receive bids from architectural and engineering firms interesting in designing the new school. School bond funds approved by voters will pay for construction of what will be the district’s 35th elementary. According to Olathe administrators, more space is needed for a student population that has been growing for almost half a century.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, Olathe’s board members will review plans for revising the district’s teacher evaluation process, which they refer to as appraisal. Teacher evaluations have been in the news nationally because of controversy over whether it is appropriate to make jobs dependent on student standardized test results. How the district evaluates the performance of teachers and other certified professionals such as counselors and librarians is subject to annual union contract negotiations, and union representatives have been involved in the revision process. Student performance has been part of Olathe teachers’ evaluations for almost 40 years. The question now, though, is how much of a teacher’s evaluation will have to be based on student testing.

Proposed revisions affect appraisals of three groups, described by the district as “new educators,” “career educators” and “struggling educators.” Administrators evaluating new educators would receive flexibility to choose spending more time with those in need of extra attention. More types of data about teacher performance would be available for those evaluating career educators, and written reports would be required to document ratings of “developing” or “ineffective.” Also, proposed revisions would emphasize assisting struggling educators in the schools where they teach before escalating to the district level.

Olathe’s board members must deal with this issue, because the state of Kansas is changing teacher evaluation requirements. Olathe administrators expect to receive new state guidelines in June and anticipate their new system will meet most new requirements. However, the district’s evaluation committee will continue meeting during the coming school year analyzing issues such as how much of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on student test scores, among other issues.

Kansas promised to revise the way it evaluates teacher effectiveness as part of its request for a waiver of requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The intent of the act is to narrow achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged public school students. However, the goal of 100 percent proficiency on state standardized tests by 2014 appeared to be unrealistic, and the U.S. Congress is overdue on reauthorizing NCLB. Therefore, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has invited states to apply for waivers.

The federal government has already granted waiver requests to all ten of the first round of applicants and plans to respond to the second round of requests — including the one from Kansas — sometime in the next few weeks. If Kansas receives a waiver, districts in the state will have a year to revise the way they evaluate teachers.

The Board of Education meeting, which is open to the public, will take place in the district’s Education Center; 14160 Black Bob Road; Olathe, KS 66063.

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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