CHELSEA — Even as officials say Regional School Unit 12’s effort to create a new teacher evaluation system will take a while and include lots of time for refinement, at least one school board member says many teachers feel the initiative is moving too fast.

Whitefield-based RSU 12 is one of five districts in the state taking part in Maine Schools for Excellence, an initiative to develop evaluations that will incorporate student growth and performance, and then attach financial incentives to those evaluations.

RSU 12 received a chunk of a five-year federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant. This is the grant’s first year, and the school district will unveil its new evaluation model next school year.

“From a district standpoint, you guys got kind of a late start,” said Scott Harrison, project director for Maine Schools for Excellence.

Harrison gave the RSU 12 board an update on the project’s status this week.

Starting late means RSU 12 will be able to learn from what other districts have already done, including Anson-based RSU 74.

Being behind makes teachers feel even more rushed, however, said board member Jean Morin, a Whitefield representative who serves on the district’s grant steering committee.

“The project I get positive comments about; the speed of the project is the problem,” she said. “By not really examining it and having the full discussions and taking our time at it, things are going to fall between the cracks, and maybe it’s people that fall between the cracks.”

Morin said she hears similar concerns every time she talks to an RSU 12 teacher.

The teachers like the emphasis on professional development and the use of regular evaluations to boost teacher effectiveness, Morin said.

Work being done in RSU 12 aligns in several ways with the Maine Education Association’s position on teacher evaluation and accountability. The new evaluation model is being developed locally, with the involvement of local union representatives on RSU 12’s steering committee.

The model will use several different types of performance measures, which will be based on research, Harrison said. It will be tailored to the standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Harrison said the new evaluations must be transparent, and the people observing teachers must be well trained.

MEA goes on to recommend that teachers be assessed frequently to provide useful feedback. If teachers are not meeting standards, MEA says, they should meet with supervisors to develop and improvement plan and be given up to a year to improve with proper training and support.

If that does not work, they should be counseled to leave teaching or be dismissed with due process.

RSU 12’s schools in Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor and Wiscasset have each developed building goals for the year that involve several measurable factors such as student growth on internal assessments, participation in Accelerated Reader, President’s Challenge fitness results and average daily attendance.

Depending on each building’s attainment of its goals, teachers can earn up to $500 in performance pay from grant funds. They also are eligible for a $500 stipend for taking part in the National Board’s “Take One!” video professional development program.

Chelsea board member Barbara Skehan took issue with the inclusion of attendance, saying teachers can’t go pick up a student who doesn’t come to school.

“It’s not in my control,” she said.

“I might argue that it is,” Superintendent Greg Potter replied.

Potter said attendance rates can indicate how well teachers are engaging students.

Harrison said the districts in the initiative will consider to research and reflect on different ways to evaluate student growth and teacher effectiveness.

“It’s a starting point, and over time those measures are going to get better and better and better, is our hope,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]