Amherst regional schools get new teacher evaluation system
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Amherst Superintendent Maria Geryk Purchase photo reprints »
Kip Fonsh is the new chairman of the Amherst Regional School Committee. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Superintendent Maria Geryk took a night off Tuesday from discussing the budget shortfalls plaguing schools to update the Regional School Committee on the progress her office has made toward achieving its goals for the school year.
The goals focus on improving the schools through teacher assessments and family engagement with the school system.
“We’re taking a break from budget,” said Geryk. “In this forum anyway. We’re not taking a break internally from our work.”
The regional school district, consisting of Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury, is implementing a new system for evaluating teachers.
Teachers have been receiving brief assessments more frequently than in the past, according to Geryk and Michael Morris, the director of evaluation and assessment for the district. Morris said the previous system for assessing teachers required evaluations every two years. The new evaluations focus on whether teachers are effectively using tested teaching techniques in their classrooms.
Morris said he has been working with administrators and supervisors responsible for evaluating teaching quality to ensure that the assessments are consistent and that teachers with weak areas receive additional support.
School Committee Chairman Kip Fonsh said the plan for evaluating teachers is an “incredibly profound shift.”
“It goes from a shift of a teacher teaching math to students, to teaching students math ... with the emphasis on not so much the math, while that’s significant and important, but with an emphasis on the teaching — the specific instructional practices that a teacher engages in,” said Fonsh. He raised concerns that some teachers would be challenged by the new set of expectations.
“For the vast majority of our teachers, the evaluation process is not one of fear or scare, it’s around development,” Morris said. “How do people authentically get feedback and support in further developing their already strong skills?”
The district is also attempting to improve student achievement by increasing family engagement with the schools. Marta Guevara, the director of student achievement and accountability, has implemented Family University, a series of meetings designed for low-income families who are new to the district and do not speak English as a first language. The meetings focus on helping families learn how they can support their children’s schooling and what their rights are in the education system. Sixty-five families were identified as potential participants and 10 attended the first meeting Jan. 10.
“This was one of the highlights of my career,” said Guevara of the first meeting, which included a communal dinner. “The families just were very candid sharing what this meant to them...learning ways of supporting their kids to be successful—navigating the schools.”
Faye Brady, who took over as director of student services and special education for the school district in July, presented a report on the progress her department had made in meeting its goals.