When Michele Sherban-Kline walked into the New Haven School Board’s Gateway Center last Thursday morning, she was handed the reins of school reform in the Elm City.
Last week she was an assistant principal at Wilbur Cross High School on Mitchell Drive.Now she heads the city’s teacher evaluation and development efforts to raise New Haven school standards. Sherban-Kline said the reform is the latest devlpment in achieving the city’s goal of halving the school dropout rate and insuring all students graduate high school and college.President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers David Cicarella said the attempts to improve standardsare significantly different than any previoussystem.
The quality of teachers will directly affect student’s education, Sherban-Kline said, addingthat improving the quality of teaching in New Haven is the goal of the evaluation reform.
“[The new evaluation process] is really all about supporting our teachers to their fullest potential,” Sherban-Kline said.
But although the new process is designed to help teachers, Sherban-Kline said there will likely be teachers unhappy with the new evaluation process. Sherban-Kline said she understands that the big changes for teachers are bound to make people nervous.
Cicarella said that he has no sympathy for those unhappy with the changes.
“We’re doing something very very different,” he said.
Sherban-Kline’snew role is still technically an Assistant Principal position, but she is now assigned to the Board of Education’s headquarters as opposed to a specific school. Thejob is currently set to last for two years.
Cicarella said he fought for Sherban-Kline’s hiring during the selection process. Sherban-Kline helped teachers at Wilbur Cross improve through reasonable and non-punitive measures, he said.
“Her skills are absolutely perfect for this,” Cicarella said.“And I don’t say that too often about administrative appointments.”
Her six years as an assistant principal gave Sherban-Kline a top-down perspective on school reform, she said.But she added that she can also draw on a decade of experience as a Chemistry and Physics teacher.
Sherban-Kline, for her part, said she isn’t entirely sure why she was tapped for the position, but that she is excited to have theopportunity.
She saidshe plans to spend her first days becoming acquainted with New Haven’s school reform process. She will then start designing user-friendly evaluation literature and collaborating with the many parties involved in the process, she said.Sherban-Kline said the process is designedto improve the education system, not to get rid of teachers.
Communications Director for the Board of Education Michelle Wadeagreed with Sherban-Kline, but said that the new process will “weed out” those teachers for whom educating may not be the best profession.
During the beginning stages of the reform process, at an Oct.2009 finance committee hearing on the teachers’ union contract, some aldermen voiced concern that even if administrative and organizational reform were achieved, underperforming teachers would not be removed, ultimately hampering the reform efforts.
To address this issue, a committee of six teachers and six administrators developed a new evaluation system supported by both the union and the city. A working group open to all 1600 teachers in the New Haven public school system provided a forum for discussion Cicarella said. The working group debated issues and the smaller committee relayed the message to city officials he added. Working group meetings drew about 40 teachers, each bringing suggestions from their absent colleagues.
Wadesaid the new process began in early September.
“We’re very excited about it,” she said, “and extremely pleased with the cooperation from the teacher’s union.”
But the reform process was not easy for the city.Cicarella said peer validation was one of the most contentious issues. If one individual is responsible for evaluating a teacher’s ability (specifically a school principal who may have an incentive to blame low test scores on bad teachers as opposed to poor administration), then contesting a poor assessment is difficult if not impossible.
Cicarella said this problem was solved by agreeing to send an outside party to accompany the evaluator in case of a disagreement.
From there, the principal or other administrator will sit down with the teacher to craft an improvement plan for the rest of the school year, he said. Cicarella said that the agreement set Nov.1 as the latest date when a teacher could be alerted of his or her need to improve.
There are 44 schools in the New Haven public school system.