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Focus of statewide teleconference is effective teaching |

Focus of statewide teleconference is effective teaching

Patrick Cloonan
| Wednesday, November 2, 2011 12:00 a.m

Elizabeth Forward School District, Propel East and Homestead charter schools, and Forbes Road Career & Technology Center are volunteering for a pilot program aimed at improving teacher effectiveness.

That program was discussed with other “Making The Grade” bids to achieve effective teaching in every classroom in a statewide virtual town hall meeting Tuesday in Homestead.

“Our goal was to create a statewide dialogue about having an effective teacher for every child in every classroom,” Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children CEO Joan Benso told 1,400 participants.

They were gathered in 28 locations, including the Allegheny Intermediate Unit headquarters in the Waterfront, for a two-hour forum also involving state Secretary of Education Ronald J. Tomalis.

It’s all part of an effort to “find out successful practices that have the most impact on student achievement,” Tomalis said in a video conference call also seen locally at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit in Hempfield Township.

“No resource is more important than an outstanding teacher,” said Dr. Joe O’Brien, executive director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit and president of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units, which arranged the conference call.

Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Education began development of a comprehensive educator-assessment system funded with $800,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That “Pilot I” round involved Cornell and Quaker Valley districts.

“Many of our teachers saw the need for an updated evaluation system,” Cornell High School chemistry teacher Tavis Bogue said as part of a panel that featured speakers in Homestead and three other sites.

This fall, the AIU and eight other intermediate units, Propel and seven other charter schools, and Forbes Road and eight other career and technical centers are building on that 2010-11 foundation.

AIU executive director Dr. Linda Hippert said administrators will get training in Homestead later this fall in a system that eventually will use 22 indicators.

Teachers later will be trained in a system that will be implemented in 2012-13.

Coincidentally, the Pittsburgh Public Schools system is using a teacher-evaluation system funded with $40 million from the Gates Foundation.

The 2009 grant aimed to ensure that students had access to effective teachers in each classroom. Hippert said it gave Pittsburgh a “pre-Pilot I” program.

“Our teachers were well aware that our evaluation system was broken,” Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president Nina Esposito-Visgitis told the virtual town hall. She lauded city school officials who “looked for real evaluation” with the Gates-funded program.

“Teachers are believing in this process because they are getting positive feedback,” Pittsburgh Arsenal School teacher Allison McLean told the statewide gathering.

Five McKeesport Area district administrators were among approximately 100 participants at the AIU.

Superintendent Dr. Timothy M. Gabauer said the district made changes in its evaluation system this fall.

“This is a way to make everything consistent, to get everyone on the same page,” Gabauer said. He is applying it to his philosophy of reaching “every child, every day” in the McKeesport Area public schools.

Founders Hall Middle School principal Dr. Karen Chapman said changes involved input from teachers, the McKeesport Area Education Association, district administrators and members of the school board.

MASD is not volunteering for the Pilot II program, however, Gabauer said, because the district “wanted to be sensitive to the negotiating process,” as MASD and MAEA are negotiating a new teacher contract.

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