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Teachers say last five years brought rapid change

April 1, 2014

Faculty members from three Wauwatosa schools met in a special session with the Wauwatosa School Board in an attempt to promote conversation and address teacher concerns.

The meeting, the third of four dedicated to such conversation, drew four teachers who expressed concerns.

They said they felt the school district has undergone a lot of changes over the past five years and that although most of the changes have been positive, problems have developed that aren't being adequately addressed.

Evaluations questioned

Much of the concern centered on a new statewide teacher evaluation system and a lack of communication about it. The state-mandated evaluations take place every three years and are heavily based on intermediate party observations, such as those of the principal. The teachers fear they aren't being adequately evaluated.

Superintendent Phil Ertl, on hand as a witness, addressed many of the concerns after discussion among the participating board members and the faculty came to an impasse.

"Keep doing what you're doing," Ertl said. "I know there is nervousness about the evaluations, but it's about feedback."

"There's going to be more communication between teachers and principals than ever before," Ertl said.

Staying visible

As another discussion point, many of the board members stressed their availability and how they hope to be seen as more visible within the district.

Sharon Muehlfeld, a nine-year board member, said she likes to be in schools and she tries to visit as often as possible.

"If I'm not there, how do I know what's happening?" Muehlfeld said.

Board member Mary Jo Randall said she loves visiting the schools, and many of the teachers on staff recognize her as a more visible board member.

"Pick a school, pick a classroom, walk in and what you see won't disappoint you," Randall said.

A moment to breath

The final concern was that the faculty members feel they hadn't gotten enough time to adequately process everything that had changed, and that when they get to a year where there aren't drastic changes, like this one, they feel better about the changes as a whole because they have time to digest them.

Despite those issues the tone was overall a positive one. Many of the teachers talked about collaboration and wanting to see a more active curriculum exchange through the professional learning community sessions that take place. Ertl said the PLCs are strictly teacher time to be used for whatever teachers like.

The overall point of the meeting, Randall said, was to foster conversation and figure out what some of the problems teachers are having are.

Randall said she thought many faculty members lost trust in the School Board after the state's Act 10 took power from the teachers union. These meetings are attempting to rebuild that trust.

"We're just reaching out anyway that we can at all to get people to trust and to find out what works and doesn't work," Randall said. "Anybody that has any kind of ideas on how to help people communicate in this new environment, I want to hear them."

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