I will honestly admit that I wasn’t very excited to travel to Colorado in February for the Douglas County School District Innovation Summit and Harrison School District #2 visit. At least I wasn’t attending by myself, but instead attending with an Oregon delegation of TIF and Collaboration grantees, plus Dale Rooklyn, our Chalkboard Coach, and Bev Pratt of Chalkboard Project. But in the end, I enjoyed the presentations and seeing the work they are doing in the areas of assessment, teacher evaluation, and compensation.
I didn’t agree with everything they did, however. I was disappointed in how their reforms were created without union involvement—there is perhaps 20 percent union membership in Colorado. I’m grateful for Chalkboard’s assistance in helping the teachers association become a prominent part of the CLASS reforms in Klamath Falls. Having union participation adds important checks and balances to the development process, and, in my opinion, the CLASS program has added greatly to the collaborative relationship between the school district and the association.
My biggest takeaway from Colorado is learning how these school districts created their own assessments after deciding the statewide assessments don’t evaluate what they feel are important.
Harrison School District’s teacher evaluation processes were compelling, and I wish I could have had more time to talk to their teachers about how they felt about scoring and evaluations, accomplished without association input. I flipped through a three-ring binder that included forms that teachers submit for review, outlining their achievements in the field such as mentoring, leadership, additional training, student scores, and others. This application is reviewed, scored, and used to evaluate if a teacher or principal deserves pay increases. As well as being a tool to evaluate pay increases, the reverse is also true—a teacher can go down in pay scale if their work performance falls below a prescribed level of expectations for two consecutive years.
Unfortunately, some of the things I really liked can’t really be replicated down here in Klamath Falls. Perhaps at some of Oregon’s largest school districts, but we have a small district of about 4,000 students, and the Douglas County district has 65,000 students, and we just don’t have the staff to do what they do. Harrison School District had 13 people working exclusively on writing assessments for every grade level.
Back in Colorado, there was a school superintendent who described the boldness of their reforms by saying, “We run with scissors.” They take chances and go for the big things in Denver and as a result, they are at the leading edge by trying new and different things. Here in Klamath Falls, Oregon, our Collaboration grant committees are testing the waters to make meaningful and lasting change happen to improve the profession of teaching, and increase the quality of education for all of our students and the families we serve. And I’ve learned—you can’t judge a conference until you’ve been there.
Steve Campbell teaches at Ponderosa Middle School in Klamath Falls. A teacher for more than 22 years in Oregon, he was the local teacher association’s president the last four years, and has been involved with CLASS for the past three years and serves as the compensation committee chairperson.
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