Better Newspaper Contest

2013 Award Winners

Hoosier State Press Association - The Indiana Publisher - Better Newspaper Contest

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Story of the Year Journal & Courier (Lafayette) Division 5 Series: Teacher evaluations New paradigm beginning to unfold • The 2012-13 school year marked the first time, under a 2011 state law, that teachers will be evaluated annually. Mikel Livingston Journal & Courier (Lafayette) To the teachers gathered in Tecumseh Junior High School's multipurpose room late last month, Principal Brett Gruetzmacher spoke frankly. "This is going to be quite an undertaking for all of us," Gruetzmacher said. "A learning process for all of us as well. I can assure you even 10 years down the road it will still be a learning process." It was a Friday, the first day for teachers to return before Lafayette School Corp. classes started on Aug. 27, and all 73 of Tecumseh's teachers assembled to hear Gruetzmacher outline the yearlong teacher evaluation process. The 2012-13 school year marks the first time, under a 2011 state law, that teachers will be evaluated annually. They'll be observed, interviewed and judged in a way never before seen in Indiana. As LSC officials hammered out specifics of their evaluation system – a modification of the state developed RISE model – teachers were kept informed. But for many this twohour staff meeting was the first time they saw some of the tweaks made to the model over the summer. Gruetzmacher and his two assistant principals can't answer all the questions, yet. But they're doing the best they can with the new system, which gives the school's three administrators the following: • Eight school days to conduct 73 half-hour, preconference meetings between Tecumseh's three principals and individual teachers to go over questions and establish goals. • Seventy-one school days, between Sept. 10 and Dec. 21, to complete 73 one-hour observations of each teacher. Administrators will conduct 73 more obser ations during v the spring semester. • Seventy-one school days to conduct at least a 10- to 15-minute observation for each teacher. • Two or three short evaluations are required throughout the year. The first principal-teacher meetings began last Tuesday, the second day of school. "This is the first one," Gruetzmacher said as he and social studies teacher Wade Harrington settled down at the table in the principal's office. "The first of many to come." During the preconference, the two began planning Harrington' focus areas for the year. "I'm interested in seeing just how the year plays out on a teacher level, and then how does that look in the classroom to students?" Harrington said. "At the end, if our teaching is better be ause of it, then it's a c win-win." Minutes later, just down the hall, math teacher Melissa Colonis sits with assistant principal Dave Walker. Walker will be her primary evaluator. He's one of four new assistant principals the district added to keep up with the evaluation workload. "I'm hoping to use it to improve and be able to demonstrate student growth," Colonis said. "I want to improve my teaching skills and the level of instruction for my students. That's how I always approach evaluations." Teachers still aren't sure what to expect under the new system, and administrators don't know yet what responsibilities they'll have to sacrifice to make room for the added workload. In the back of Gruetzmacher's office is a large board he'll used to track their progress. It has each teacher's name along with magnets he'll place on the board for each completed step in the process. After Harrington's preconference, Gruetzmacher picks up a magnet and notes the time and date of the meeting. Then he places it on the board next to Harrington's name. "One down," Gruetz macher said. Seventy-two to go. Finalist panel's comments: This story stood above the field due to its ambitiousness, planning and execution. An incredible piece of explanatory journalism that successfully balances human interest and issue-oriented focus. This report could and should serve as a model for others. Category judge's comments: The series brought the "big" issue of evaluations into a personal way and made me want to know how these teachers and schools came out. Data also was useful. The writing was crisp and descriptive, too. Great, colorful work. Page 7

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