SAD 44 revamping teacher evaluations, assessing teaching methods

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BETHEL — SAD 44 is developing a new state-mandated teacher evaluation tool, paid for by a four-year, $4.5 million grant to improve instruction and boost student performance.

Eight district teachers are acting as facilitators, along with Maine Schools for Excellence professional development coordinator Jane Blais. They work with each teacher and administrator in the five-town district that comprises Andover, Bethel, Greenwood, Newry and Woodstock.

Last summer, facilitators attended a two-day conference to learn the goals and objectives of the grant, said Mary Merrill, a Crescent Park Elementary School first-grade teacher. She and special education teacher Tiffany Colby and fourth-grade teacher Renee Charette are facilitators for the school.

“This allows us to stop and evaluate and reflect (on how and what is taught) and to make some connections between what we teach and what students learn,” she said. “This is really about teacher practices and meeting the individual needs of students.”

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Colby said the training program is an incredible tool for teachers.

“We have to have an evaluation system so this is providing support in a positive way that can only benefit students,” she said.

The facilitators in each school meet regularly with staff to learn how well each new practice is succeeding.

Collaboration among teachers is encouraged. What works for one teacher can often work for another teacher.

“We see teachers deliver instructions with the standards in mind to see if students are understanding,” Blais said. “We’re trying to bring the best teaching practices. This should help teachers identify student needs more quickly.”

Scott Harrison, executive director of Maine Schools for Excellence, said a significant part of the grant focuses on improving teacher evaluations, which the state is mandating. He said SAD 44 is receiving the training at no cost locally.

Superintendent David Murphy said teacher evaluations will be much more objective and teachers will be more invested in planning instruction.

The overall goal of the four-year grant is to boost student success, increase graduation rates and improve test scores, he said.

“This will be a lot of work for a lot of years,” he said. “It’s great for our district to revamp the system. This will really change how we do business.”

Within the next few weeks, students and teachers will be surveyed to learn how well the new approaches to teaching and learning are going, Merrill said.

Colby said she was pleased to be part of this grant.

“I think change is important. This is going in the right direction, to improve student learning,” she said.

SAD 44 is one of five school districts in Maine participating in the federal grant program, which started in 2013. The Teacher Incentive Fund is overseen by Maine Schools for Excellence. Longtime SAD 44 employee Wendy Hanscom is administering the grant.

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