Talking With Principals, Part 3: Evaluating educators

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Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrot-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about principal training and other matters at a 2014 discussion with Catalyst.

Photos by Michelle Kanaar

Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrot-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about principal training and other matters at a 2014 discussion with Catalyst.

Our third installment of a conversation between principals focuses on how educators are being evaluated, an issue that has taken on greater importance because state law now requires that test scores be part of these evaluations.

Participants in the roundtable Catalyst Chicago recently hosted included principals Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary, Adam Parrott-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary, Deidrus Brown, of Gresham Elementary and Chad Adams from Sullivan High. Our first two stories covered why principals speak out publicly—or don’t about school district policies and the controversial SUPES Academy.

Last year CPS changed the way it evaluates principals in order to meet new state standards that hold them accountable for student academic growth. 

In addition to data that show students’ academic growth, principals are also to be graded on ”practice criteria” that include less easily measured indicators, such as whether they champion teacher and staff excellence through continuous improvement, build a school culture focused on college and career readiness and “create powerful systems of professional learning.”  Network chiefs conduct two formal observations of each principal annually, and provide feedback to discuss the observations, the data and the school’s goals.

Most principals were graded as “proficient”—squarely in the middle–last year. 

Principals at Catalyst’s roundtable discussion expressed dissatisfaction with the evaluation system, comparing it to the similarly data-driven teacher evaluation system, Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (REACH). In both cases, principals said the evaluation process was bogged down by paperwork and gave limited opportunities for detailed feedback that could help them – and their teachers – grow.

Catalyst Chicago: What has the principal evaluation process been like so far ? What has the interaction been like between you and your network chiefs?

 Troy LaRaviere: The time and energy put into it is as much a waste as the time and energy put into REACH. Getting in and observing teachers and giving feedback is important. REACH is not designed to do that. It’s designed to collect evidence to justify a number you give a teacher, a 1, 2, 3, or 4 — an unsatisfactory, a satisfactory, a proficient or a distinguished. All of the feedback you give them is designed to justify that label, not improve their practice. It would be as if I’m coaching a baseball team, and I decided we’re going to improve a team by creating a rating system, and the feedback is to justify the rating. I’ve put so much time in creating the system to justify the rating, that I’ve taken away 80 percent of the time that I had previously used to actually coach them to help them become better players. That is what’s happening with CPS, on the teacher level and with the principal evaluation. You pull this mountain of documentation together, spend a lot of time doing it, and you take away that time from your responsibilities at the school. I told my chief that, frankly, of all the things I did last year to improve my students’ performance, the work I put into that evaluation contributed to it the least. So I decided I would not put any more effort than I had to in this year’s evaluation–you can give me whatever mark you want.

 Chad Adams: My school has been on [academic] probation for a number of years, and probation basically strips the power from the Local School Council (LSC). My LSC rating was pretty good, I was really happy with it, and I liked the feedback they gave me. I’m not so sure the size of the network allows the chiefs to spend the amount of time they need in schools to really help a first-year principal, or principals in general. So I was putting more stock in my LSC, because they live and breathe the school a little more than the chief. At the same time, my chief’s rating of me, at this point, carries more weight as far as me having employment and me being able to feed my child than the LSC rating. So I have to put some time into it, because that allows me to have a livelihood.

Catalyst: Did your chief give you good feedback on your evaluation?

Adams: I got air time, where they came and did walk-throughs in classrooms with me and talked about what we were seeing, what my next moves were going to be, and after that they had a conversation with me, saying “These are the things you need to think about.” My chiefs are former principals, I don’t have the experience they have, so I listen to them. I was happy they were able to give me that. But I don’t think they have enough time to give me the time you really need as a first-year principal.

 Adam Parrott-Sheffer: That’s where you get the sense that it’s a design flaw. If you take it from the abstract, we definitely need a common language around what effective instruction and effective leadership looks like. All good organizations do. When I think about REACH, that’s a positive thing to have – a common vocabulary around what we say good instruction looks like. We might disagree around the edges, around certain pieces of it, but to have a common language? Good thing. To have feedback? Really good thing. But we’re talking about networks that have 50-some schools in them. You could probably get somebody in to observe your school every two months, if that’s all that they did. My evaluator is phenomenal, she’s brilliant, and then I have to wait six months before I get that sort of feedback again. And by then we’ve moved all sorts of ways with it.

 Deidrus Brown: I would have loved to have a person evaluating me that had some experience with elementary schools, and would have visited my school more than two times, and knew the culture of elementary schools. My chief did not have that experience, so I took the evaluations with a grain of salt.