By Valerie Werkmeister
New faces aren’t the only thing to change at North Elementary School in Poseyville this year. Along with a new principal, new teachers and staff, and the addition of students from the former New Harmony School are the implementation of new federal mandates, namely, RISE – a new way to evaluate educators.
This evaluation is not only based on observation of the teachers’ performance while in class, but also by how well students perform on standardized testing such as ISTEP. RISE is the brainchild of the Indiana Department of Education and is structured as a way for administrators to provide useful feedback to teachers for professional growth. It will also be used as a tool to determine performance-based salary increases.
According to new principal, Terri Waugaman, while the successes of each classroom depends on the effectiveness of each teacher, the success of the entire school rests on her shoulders. Waugaman replaces former principal, Tim Teel, who chose to return to the classroom. She comes from an administrative position at Longfellow Elementary School in Gary, IN. She has been working as a Title 1 facilitator, literacy coach and professional development coordinator since 2007.
Superintendent Dr. Todd Camp stated that when the school board was challenged with the task of finding someone to be knowledgeable in RISE implementation and establishing new reading program criteria, the board unanimously chose Waugaman.
“She is our superstar,” Camp said.
RISE implementation isn’t the only challenge Waugaman faced. According to Camp, new federal guidelines mandate that all special education students receive instruction in the general classroom.
“Gone are the days when the special education students are placed in a separate classroom and those teachers must teach them within their own class,”Waugaman added.
The new thinking is that those students will benefit from the behavior and support of their peers in the general classroom. Now, the special education teachers will co-teach in these classrooms. In order to do this, she was tasked with the tremendous job of changing and adjusting teacher, staff and aide schedules throughout the school. Recess and lunch times changed as well as the number of days per week students will go to gym, art, music and computer.
North Elementary also received the distinction of becoming a Title 1 school, whereas before only certain students qualified for Title 1 assistance. Simply put, it means a majority of the students meet poverty-level criteria, thus qualifying for Title 1 federal assistance. The program’s emphasis is to help all disadvantaged children each state academic standards. The funds can be used for instruction, counseling, parent and program involvement. In return, school districts must meet accountability requirements for raising student performance.
Camp explained the school corporation has hired four new instructional aides due to the school-wide Title 1 distinction. Scheduling for these aides, in addition to scheduling the special education teachers, has placed an increased challenge for the school’s overall schedule. Waugaman must plug-in time slots for the aides and teachers to cover all the bases. It is for this reason, she explains, that it was necessary to have all of the teachers instructing the same subjects throughout the day.
Last year, teachers at North were already charged with the task of setting aside 90-minutes of uninterrupted reading time in each class per day. This year, a Response to Instruction Time (RTI) is being added following that 90-minute time block. Waugaman explained that teachers must create literacy stations or centers in which students will work on their reading skills.
Waugaman explained that RTI will benefit students because each classroom teacher and instructional aide will be able to work with and listen to the students in smaller groups. It will provide more one-on-one time with each students and the teacher will also gain insight as to the strengths and weaknesses of each student. The teacher will be able to adjust her instruction to fit the needs of each student.
Although the reasons for the changes seem simple, it doesn’t mean everyone will willingly embrace the changes. Nor does it mean that all of the schedule changes will run smoothly in the first week. Something unexpected like new kindergarten students adjusting to eating lunch in a specified amount of time and over-extending their specified lunch time can cause a domino-effect of schedule problems for the remainder of the day.
Waugaman admits it’s a learning experience and there are still glitches in the scheduling which must be worked out. She also intends to provide additional resources for teachers on how to prepare their lesson plans, create their literacy centers and sees ongoing professional development as one of the key roles of her job as a principal.
She explained that it is not uncommon for teachers to initially fail the first component of the RISE evaluation. While at her former school, she established a peer support group in which teachers could learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses. She intends to do the same here, but in order to do so, she had to arrange teachers’ schedules accordingly so that same grade-level teachers all had the same planning period.
According to Camp, it was ultimately his decision as well as the school board’s, to implement all of the necessary changes at one time instead of in phases. He said that Waugaman has their full support in all of the changes that have been made.
Conversely, teachers have stated they have struggled with the number of schedule changes that have been given. Teachers agree on several concerns that they had hoped to bring to the school board’s attention. Some of those concerns have more to do with, what they claim, are Waugaman’s lacking leadership and communication skills than with the actual changes themselves.
“We don’t have a problem with the fact that things have to change. We have a problem with not being able to prepare for these changes. We haven’t been given any direction on how to prepare our lesson plans or what we’re supposed to do in these literacy centers or during the RTI period,” said one teacher.
Due to fear of reprimand, many of the teachers asked for their names not to appear in this story. The individuals who came forward to provide information for this story asserted that the problems they discussed were school-wide.
Camp affirmed he was contacted by a teacher who asked to have the teachers’ concerns placed on the agenda for the August 13, school board meeting. Camp stated he told the teacher that they needed to determine what their topic for discussion was, and that board meetings would not be utilized for general complaint sessions. He asked them to contact him again when they had determined what they specifically wanted to address. He stated that he was not contacted again regarding the matter.
School board meetings at North Posey are structured around a specific agenda. They do not allow time for citizen comments or questions during the meeting, nor are they required to do so by Indiana’s Open Door Law.
“We’re used to being part of a team. We’re used to being part of helping with schedule planning. We don’t have a problem with change at all, we just want to be a part of what’s taking place,” one teacher advised.
Other teachers expressed concern as gym and computer time are being reduced from twice a week to once a week. They noted that South Terrace has implemented the same schedules, but is still able to have gym twice a week.
“All of our assessment testing is done online. These kids need to be familiar with how a computer works in order to be successful in the testing. There are simpler ways to implement these changes,” the teacher stated.
Camp did address the staff via e-mail last week after school had started in regards to some of the teachers’ concerns.
He stated, “Please work together as a team to provide positive suggestions to help the team. It is easy to stand in a corner and complain how things are not like they used to be or how you may not like some idea or mandate. No good will come from this behavior except dissention from the team and the disruption of the direction we will and must go.”
Working as a team and communicating will be key as the school moves forward in the coming weeks.