This week, school districts (we hope all school districts) across the state of Maine will sign on to Maine’s application in the Race to the Top competition for up to $75 million in federal funds for education reform work.

We have been in training for this race since 1997, when Maine became one of the first states in the country to adopt statewide standards with the adoption of the Maine Learning Results.

The system is dependent on great teachers and leaders to ensure the system’s optimal operation and success. It will be essential to ensure that current teachers and leaders and those entering the profession are trained to facilitate and lead learning. The development of great teachers and leaders drives the system’s success. Educators’ evaluation must be performance based.

The Maine Legislature established a stakeholder group that is charged with approving models established and submitted by the Maine Department of Education for linking student data to the evaluation of the professional performance of teachers and principals.

Because this law would not have taken effect until later this summer, Gov. John Baldacci issued an executive order requiring the department to convene the stakeholders and approve at least one model for the evaluation of teachers and one model for the evaluation of principals. Without such a model, a barrier exists to Maine submitting a Race to the Top application.

The work of this group will continue in the future as districts, other states and organizations improve upon the current models and develop new models. Our intent is that the assessment will be tied to student growth and achievement measures.

In addition, we need to factor for conditions that are beyond the control of teachers and principals. For example, a teacher should not be penalized when a lower-achieving student only advances by five months of work during the school year if that student’s typical progress is two months a year. We now have data systems and evaluation models that allow us to factor in just those kinds of conditions.

Effective models leave room for school boards and administrators to work with principals and teachers, as is required in the law, to tailor a model that works for their district.

Teachers and principals must be part of the decision-making and implementation of any evaluation system by local schools. Our job at the state level is to set the parameters for linking data to these evaluation systems and allow school officials, educators, and the community to tailor a system to their local needs.

Years of work have gone into each of these — none of this is new. We are positioned to develop a trustworthy data system that is fair to educators and includes more than the state assessment given once a year.

Groups across the country representing teachers, principals and other professionals are being consulted on their progress toward effectively linking student data with educators’ professional growth and evaluation.

We are confident that once the stakeholder group approves a model and removes the barrier to our application, we can proceed with a successful application, making us a strong competitor in the Race to the Top. Our plan is comprehensive and focused on building great teachers and leaders in all our schools and in every classroom.

Angela Faherty is acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.