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Senate bill: evaluate administrators to improve schools

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 6:48 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Improving and evaluating school leadership is now at the heart of a bill that originally hinged on performance pay for teachers and loosening termination laws.

SB64, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, highlights the idea that "administrators want to hold themselves more accountable," Osmond told a Senate committee Monday. It's a big departure from the intent he expressed last fall to move teachers to a performance pay system and eliminate "career status" for teachers, making them easier to fire.

The freshman senator's bill presented Monday looks instead to focus on administrators.

"When an organization is struggling," Osmond said, "you don't rifle-shot out the employees first. You look at what the leadership is doing."

The lengthy legislation details that up to 15 percent of school principals' salaries would eventually be based on an annual evaluation. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, that evaluation would factor in student achievement at the administrator's respective school, feedback from teachers, parents and supervisors, and how thoroughly the administrator conducts teacher evaluations for every licensed professional on his or her staff.

"What's exciting about this bill is there is a general agreement that although these changes are going to be challenging … we need these changes in order to take public education to the next level," Osmond said.

The bill has the support of the Utah Education Association and the State Board of Education.

"(Sen. Osmond) has enlisted conversation with all of the stakeholders," State Superintendent Larry Shumway told the Senate Education Committee, which unanimously advanced the bill to the full Senate. "This is a good step in the right direction."

Osmond said he took to heart the perspective he gained by talking to hundreds of teachers across the state last year. He held several open houses to hear their thoughts on the proposal. Out of those conversations, Osmond reported to an interim legislative committee that he found teacher morale to be low.

"This bill is not about teacher performance pay," he said. "We are going to reinforce and increase the consistency. … We're going to improve the process of remediation."

Osmond said he believes the evaluations will improve the quality of teachers in the classrooms, the quality of administration and ultimately, student achievement.

The bill does address teacher termination by limiting the remediation time frame for teachers who perform poorly on evaluations. Schools would have a total 120 days to notify teachers of their poor evaluation, remediate them and terminate them if necessary. Teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation more than once in a three-year period could be fired.

SB64 does address teacher pay, although not as significantly as Osmond's former proposal. Under the proposal, teachers would be evaluated on a scale of one to four, and teachers receiving the lowest rating would not be eligible for yearly experience-based raises commonly known as steps and lanes.

"We're now saying the evaluation actually does matter," Osmond said.  

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he would have liked to have seen more specifics regarding how much student performance will factor in to the evaluations, but congratulated Osmond on his efforts.

"This is remarkable that you have done this kind of work and you have only been in your office for less than 10 months," Stephenson said. Stephenson called the proposal "landmark legislation."

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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