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Mathews seeks new principal evaluation

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews wants the school board to approve a new plan that is meant to increase student achievement and more effective teaching by implementing a new principal evaluation.

Mathews proposed to the Newton County Board of Education on Tuesday night during its monthly work session two nonnegotiable goals for NCSS -- increased student achievement and more effective teaching.

"For the board to (adopt the goals) conveys an important and powerful message to school professionals as they go about the work of the organization on a day-to-day basis," Mathews said Tuesday, taking the idea from the book "District Leadership That Works" by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters, who study boards of education.

Mathews said based on the most recent results of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, Georgia High School Graduation Tests and college entrance exams, among others, which had many areas scoring below state and national levels, the adoption of the goals would put the focus on student achievement.

"It is that variable -- student achievement -- that is in need of focused attention and needed improvement at all levels and on most measures in the Newton County public school system," he said.

Mathews also presented the board with a new principal evaluation form developed by county office staff and the principals based on the nonnegotiables.

On the form, principals could attain more than 40 points when their schools have demonstrated increased student achievement, another 40 points or more for more effective teaching and more points in other areas.

With increased student achievement, principals could earn 17 points for attaining the primary goal for all schools: earning Adequate Yearly Progress at the end of the year. Additionally, high school principals could earn more points for significant gains on college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT, as well as Advanced Placement and End of Course Tests results.

Principals earn 13 points for their schools achieving a secondary goal for all schools: demonstrating an increase of 3 percent in student proficiency in each subgroup over the prior school year in reading, English, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. Additionally, principals whose students make significant gains in areas will receive more points.

The third focused goal of achieving a minimum safe harbor -- or reducing the failure rate from the previous year -- for the students with disabilities subgroup will earn a principal 10 points under the increased student achievement section.

The 40 points that principals can earn through more effective teaching come from paralleling the learning taking place in monthly leadership meetings during the school year and providing a portfolio demonstrating accomplishments.

Principals also earn points for their teaching and learning environments, up to seven points; staff performance and capacity, 15 points; administrative practices, seven points; community relations, six points; and personal development, 10 points.

Principals who earn between 90 and 100 points -- and more is theoretically possible -- are said to be exemplary, exceed goals or have made substantial progress. Those who achieve between 80 and 89 points are proficient and have met goal or made meaningful progress. Between 70 and 79 points is minimally acceptable with some progress being made -- scoring below 75 points necessitates a professional development plan unless the principal's school has earned Adequate Yearly Progress the prior year or two out of the last three years. Those who score below 70 points are performing unsatisfactorily and making no progress.

Mathews said Wednesday that there is no plan or intent to begin merit pay for NCSS principals based on these evaluations.

"No doubt, with our new evaluation process, we could do so given the numerical values associated with the instrument," he said, adding that it has yet to be researched in NCSS if merit pay would result in more positive learning for students. "I'm skeptical as to whether merit pay works to the benefit of student achievement in schools. I'm open, but not convinced as of yet. I'm all for 'show me the money,' but first, 'show me the research' that says merit pay increases student learning."

He said the primary purpose of the new evaluation process is to improve the leadership-for-learning in each of the schools.

"As quite a body of research has suggested over the years, the more effective the principal, the more effective the faculty is in producing positive learning results among students," Mathews said. "What the principal does and doesn't do has a big impact on the overall academic health of a school."

He said on Tuesday that although this plan is part of the NCSS improvement initiatives, he estimates that NCSS will not show the greatest improvements until three to five years from now.

"It will not happen in the course of a year," he said. "We have a ways to go."

The school board will vote on Mathews' proposal during its monthly meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.