By ASHLEY AMASON
At the Nov. 2 meeting of the Walton County School Board, both the Freeport Kiwanis Club and Defuniak Springs Kiwanis Club presented a check in the amount of $1,000 to the district for transportation costs of sending fifth grade students to the Northwest Florida State College production of Peter and the Wolf in February. Superintendent Carlene Anderson stated for many students this production is their first introduction to the arts and thanked the Kiwanis Clubs for supporting the effort. “They support the arts as [we] do,” she told the board.
The federal Race to the Top grant application was unanimously approved. Supervisor of Instruction and Curriculum Kay Dailey explained the application in a phone interview with The Herald.
Race to the Top is a U.S. Department of Education program and part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It is a four-year grant which will allocate $790,129 to the Walton County School District based upon the implementation of activities within each of the four years and the amount of funding needed for those activities. The three major areas of change include standards in assessment, data systems to support instruction, and great teachers, great leaders.
The notable change in standards in assessment is the transition from the previous Sunshine State standards to the recently implemented Next Generation state standards. Under Race to the Top and new legislation, districts will have to align assessments with Common Core, which are national standards. Subsequently, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) will be aligned to Next Generation state standards, and over the next several years phase-in the Common Core standards.
Dailey opined the district’s heaviest reluctance was the change in standards. “We’ve just gotten to the Next Generation standards, and now we’ve got to look at Common Core standards, [and while much of it is similar], we’re still going to have to adjust to the part that isn’t correlated.”
With curriculum changes, the state and districts will implement new data systems, so the two communicate with data flow to improve and/or modify teacher instruction. Dailey elicited an example that when FCAT is administered, containing different strands and levels within each subject area, data can be collected on how students answered the questions, and can help a teacher modify her instruction to help students in areas lacking proficiency. The data system will be a single sign-on program and have different levels of access for instructional and administrative staff. Dailey said the new system woul result in “better data for everybody” in addition to improving instruction by implementing 21st century technology in the classroom.
The most controversial of the application areas – great teachers, great leaders – includes the performance based teacher evaluation requirement, which entails creating a teacher appraisal in which 50 percent is based on student achievement. Within that 50 percent, 35 percent would be determined by learning gains (how much a student improved, for example scoring a level two, whereas the student scored level one the previous year) and 15 percent determined by student performance (either by FCAT scores or end of course exams). End of course exams would be given to those grade levels which do not take the FCAT, and in high school could replace the FCAT requirements to graduate, demanding students pass end of course exams rather than the sophomore year FCAT to graduate. Additionally, end of course exams would be phased in for music, art, and physical education.
The other half of the teacher evaluation is yet to be determined, but will be selected by a committee of teachers and administrators. Dailey noted the committee will share and look at the best practices across the state. “Everybody doing Race to the Top is in this together.”
The other activity implemented by the great teachers, great leaders portion will create a mentoring program in which student teachers will be mentored by established teachers who have completed clinical educators training. Additionally, a mentoring program for beginning teachers with no classroom experience will be established.
After the approval of the Race to the Top application, President of the Walton County Educational Association (WCEA) Trish Hutchison said to the board, “We are not in complete agreement on the application. We have reservations on the value model and evaluations… but we do want to work with the district.”
Dailey expressed her gratitude for the WCEA’s willingness to cooperate with the district. “I’m so glad she was willing to say, ‘we are willing to work with you on it.’”
Dailey continued, “There are things in Race to the Top that are difficult for us as well…There are so many of these things that are already law regardless of whether we send in an application or not, like the teacher appraisal [which] has to be primarily based on student achievement is already in Florida statute.”
On top of the appraisal, by the end of grant the district will have to attach performance pay to teacher evaluation (the method of which has yet to be determined). Dailey stated the district will continue to work with WCEA and negotiate things related to pay. However, if the WCEA says they are no longer willing to negotiate, then Walton County can tell the Department of Education it will no longer participate in Race to the Top and would not receive any more money, but wouldn’t have to return any funds already received.
The board closed its meeting with unanimous approval of the 2011-2012 school calendar. Students will begin school Aug. 8, 2011 and enjoy a longer summer, with the last day for students being May 24, 2012 and graduation dates county-wide from May 10-18.