Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Oct 28, 2010--Principal Jill Levine, left, and Lower School site principal Haley Brown share notes while observing classrooms at Normal Park Lower School on Thursday.
On her cell phone, Jill Levine has saved a photo of a mammoth stack of papers, more than a foot high.
It's a pile of every teacher evaluation she had to fill out last year, a reminder of the tedious process that, as principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School, she was required to complete for each teacher on both campuses of the North Chattanooga school.
"Each one was 35 pages long!" she said.
Until this year.
Part of the recent legislation ushered in by Tennessee's Race to the Top win included an overhaul of the state's teacher evaluation system. Gone are the days when a tenured teacher was evaluated once every five years; gone are nearly hourlong classroom observations in which principals wrote down every word a teacher said.
Also gone are the massive amounts of paperwork.
In their place is what many Hamilton County principals are saying is a much more streamlined process in which they evaluate each teacher every year through a series of 10 observations, each 10 minutes long.
As a bonus, they can type feedback directly into a Web-based application that teachers can access to provide responses and to see their evaluation scores on specific criteria.
"The focus is so much less on paperwork and compliance and more on principals seeing what's going on in classrooms," said Levine, who travels from classroom to classroom at Normal Park, typing observations on her iPad and submitting them wirelessly.
Hamilton County's new evaluation system is among a handful of options being piloted this year around the state. A 15-member committee, on which Levine serves, will then take feedback and create a new state evaluation model to go into effect next school year.
Sixty-eight of Hamilton County's 80 schools have chosen to participate in the pilot; the others decided to stick with the old method for this year.
In the first quarter of the school year, principals have logged 3,916 teacher observations -- more than the total number of evaluations completed last year under the old system, according to Connie Atkins, associate superintendent for human resources.
Because of the number of observations that principals now must complete, there has been concern that the process will be too time-consuming for administrators.
But a principal who completes two or three observations every day should be able to complete them all, said Robert Alford, principal of Hunter Middle School.
Alford said he also shares the observation responsibility with his two assistant principals.
Unlike the previous evaluations, the new observations are unannounced. Teachers say the new process is much less formal, and, because they don't know when an administrator is stopping by, they can't stress about putting on a show.
"You fluff it up if you know it's going to happen," said Normal Park first-grade teacher Megan Methvin.
Methvin, who is eligible for tenure this year, said Levine or Assistant Principal Haley Brown have been in her classroom seven times already this year.
Levine said she appreciates being in classrooms more often because she's even better acquainted with what's going on in her school.
"We get to see more of the really great teaching that's happening," she said. "A good teacher hears they're good much more often."
And while the new process is meant to foster greater collaboration and coaching, it is also meant to improve teacher quality around the state. More than one-third of the state's teachers rank as a one or two on a five-point scale of effectiveness, state reports show.
Officials hope the increased level of observation and feedback will help improve those statistics.
"None of us want to fire our way out of this," Ava Warren, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said Thursday during a presentation at the Hamilton County Board of Education meeting.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...