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posted: 10/23/2012 2:00 PM

Rafferty: Dist. 54 teachers work to meet community's high expectations

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It has become increasingly popular, especially in certain political arenas, to make comments regarding the perceived unwillingness of public school employees to be held accountable for student learning. This perception could not be farther from the truth in School District 54. Our staff welcomes the high expectations that our parents and community require of them.

Our union leaders have worked collaboratively with district and school administrators to develop a rigorous evaluation process that holds teachers accountable for making high levels of student learning occur in every classroom across the district.

Last May, our teaching staff overwhelmingly approved a new evaluation tool that helps to ensure District 54 students are taught by exceptional professionals. This tool clearly delineates the types of professional teaching practices that are expected to be evident on a daily basis in every classroom.

Each teacher receives regular feedback on what is working well and on any areas in need of improvement. Teachers who need to strengthen their skills in a particular area are monitored more closely and provided with additional assistance. For this small group of teachers to remain employed by District 54, substantial improvement must be seen and demonstrated.

Similar to every successful business, our staff members engage in continuous learning to enhance their skills with the ultimate goal of improving their end product -- in our case, high levels of student learning. Teachers regularly collaborate with colleagues to refine their teaching and learn additional strategies to better meet the needs of their students. Being held accountable for student learning is not new to our teachers. Therefore, utilizing an evaluation tool that strengthens and expands this expectation was readily accepted.

District 54 has been told that its evaluation process has helped to raise the bar for other school districts across the state. It is not surprising, given the dedication of our staff and their commitment to continuous improvement, that our teachers overwhelmingly approved one of the most rigorous evaluation systems used in Illinois today.

Likewise, our administrators are utilizing a new evaluation tool that goes well above the minimum requirements of the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law. PERA requires that a portion of the final overall rating for a teacher's performance must be based on student growth data.

Most districts adopted the minimum 25 percent level. This was not the case in District 54. Knowing how committed and accountable our administrators are to providing quality educational opportunities, it was not surprising that they unanimously supported basing 50 percent of their overall performance rating on student growth, the maximum allowed in PERA. As with our evaluation system for teachers, the administrator evaluation process is considered to be one of the most demanding in Illinois.

The high level of student achievement taking place in District 54 is by no means an accident. Our staff set extremely high professional standards for themselves, are fully accepting of the expectations that our parents and community have placed upon them, and willingly take responsibility for ensuring the success of every student.