New bill in the House of Representatives seeks to change teacher evaluation guidelines

House bills 5223 and 5224, which aim to change the standards by which teachers are evaluated, were read in in the House of Representatives on Jan. 22.  These could change goals for teachers beginning as early as next year, but there is still much dispute about whether these changes will be for the best.

These bills would set up a new system for teacher and administrator evaluation in Michigan.  Under the proposed legislation, student growth will comprise at least 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation for the first three years and would increase to at least 50 percent beginning in 2017.  The rest of the evaluation will be based on teacher practice, namely the results of observations.

Additionally, the bills will require schools to set up a mentor system in which teachers with high evaluations are partnered with teachers who are deemed less effective.  While some schools already use a mentor system, the bills propose making it a requirement.

Dexter Education Association President Joseph Romeo, a computer teacher at Dexter High School, said he supports this aspect of the bill.

“Mentors are absolutely critical,” he said.

While the intent of the bill is to provide a concrete measurement for how effective individual teachers are in communicating the material, the fear among many educators is that the emphasis on student growth will shift focus from benefiting the students to simply producing test scores and grades.

“All of our jobs are to prepare (students) for college,” Principal William Moran said.  “I’m disappointed that we’re going to create a situation where teachers aren’t trying to do the best teaching. I want my teachers to focus on teaching the kids that show up every day to the best of their ability.”

Part of the problem, Romeo said, is that all students do not come from similar situations outside of school.  The differences in students’ ability to focus on education outside of school will be reflected in their test scores and, in the new system, in their teachers’ evaluations.

“I would say to understand whether schools are adequately doing their job, we must address (other) issues,” Romeo said. “You would expect … students from higher socioeconomic communities to outperform students from lower socioeconomic communities.”

In order to ease such fears, legislators went to the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness for recommendations on which to base their bill.  This way, educators would be involved in forming the education bills.  Much of the bills are based on these suggestions, but more weight was given to student growth in the bills than was advised by council.

“The (MCEE) recommendation was excellent,” Moran said, despite his qualms about the bills themselves.

According to Moran, the effects of the bills changes in teacher evaluations would primarily be seen when deciding which teachers will be laid off in times of financial strain.  Therefore, the changes would be less evident in districts such as Dexter, where mass layoffs have not yet been a problem.

As these bills are only the most recent in a string of proposed changes to the Michigan educational system, teachers cannot yet be sure what changes will come in the near future.  Moran is not confident, however, that the legal system will produce an ideal system for teachers and students.

He said, “I wish I was more optimistic.”

Dicaprio elevates his game to a new level in "The Wolf of Wall Street"

As most true Americans know, Leonardo Dicaprio is “the man.”  With his great looks, beautiful acting and overall Playboy status, he is one of the most desirable men in America. Man or woman, you would be foolish to not take his hand in marriage.

With his recent track record of acting in such roles as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 release “The Great Gatsby” and “Dominick Cobb” in the 2010 release “Inception,”  Dicaprio had his fan base (all of America) craving more.

The legendary producer Martin Scorsese heard America’s cry and this past December he sent us into the new year with the blessing of Dicaprio’s presence in his film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The film follows the rise and fall and true story of self-made billionaire Jordan Belfort.  He worked as a stockbroker and pioneered the trade of penny stocks.  Between a twisting series of events including corruption and greed, and a Playboy lifestyle of hard drugs and reckless partying, Belfort’s life spirals out of control.

For the first hour or so the film is extremely captivating, and really funny at times.  Vulgar and sharp humor delivered by supporting cast such as Jonah Hill, keeps the movie fresh.  However, as the plot builds, the movie becomes more stressful.  At about two hours in, I was ready for the movie to end.

There are parts where it could have been tied up and ended perfectly, but there always seemed to be “just one more thing.”  For example Dicaprio’s character is offered a chance to turn himself in, and then another chance to cut a deal with the police and turn his partners in.  Instead he keeps doing what he’s doing and it draws out the movie way too much.  It got to the point where I was exhausted and began to lose interest.

After all, this plot is nothing new.  It’s the same classic concept as in movies like “Scarface,”and “Blow.”  Money and power corrupts;  it’s not the most original of screenplays, but what it does have going for it is that it is a true story.

That being said, it’s still a great movie.  The acting is phenomenal, and it definitely has entertaining parts.  My advice to any viewer would be to just stop watching the movie when you feel like it should be done.

There are countless points throughout, where you could just leave the theatre and be completely content with that “ending.”

Lockdown procedure gets overhaul

During the summer of 2013, Principal Kit Moran and School Liaison Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk decided to implement ALICE lockdown training for the Dexter Community School District in an effort to enforce safer procedures if an intruder were to enter the building.

ALICE, an acronym standing for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate is a critical incident-response training company that specializes in active shooter and violent intruder response strategies. It is more of an active-response training as opposed to what Moran described as the passive-response training that was used previously.

With the new procedures, students and teachers will be instructed differently. For example, if an intruder were to enter near the office door, and students were in the art room on the bottom floor of the opposite side of the building, they would exit the building and get to the next-safest destination.

As for teachers, the training is designed to make them more aware of how to handle a life or death situation if it were happening, as quickly as possible. They’re scheduled to have a first meeting about the new training on Jan. 23.

“Teachers will learn defense tactics like latching the door, blocking the entrance with desks, different kinds of barricades, and essentially anything they can do to slow down the intruder,” Moran said. “Many of these instances only occur in 5-10 minutes, so finding anything to slow an intruder down will save lives. There is a body count for every minute or two it takes for the police to get here. If you can get out of the building, get out of the building.”

It was a training session in August that made it apparent to Moran and Hilobuk that ALICE would be the new lockdown method for the district.

“They reenacted Columbine (the school shooting incident in Colorado in 1999 where 16 people including the two student-gunmen died), and it was scary to say the least,” Moran said. “It was frustrating to watch because there were so many instances where kids lost their lives because they were following an illogical lockdown method, and we don’t want that to happen here.”

However, training didn’t stop there. Moran underwent multiple training sessions to become more accustomed to the ALICE procedures.

“Training entails raise level of awareness,” Moran said. “Showing what ALICE looks like,  going through each letter of ALICE and seeing how we can do that here, with scenarios, and practicing those scenarios in the location where you hide.”

But that’s the milder side of training. It becomes more realistic when the sheriff’s department gets involved.

“Hilobuk comes in with a cap gun and it gets frightening,” Moran said.  “They show us what we used to do, when we hid in a corner and the guy could come in and shoot us.  Then we practiced ALICE, finding ways to slow down the intruder and evacuate as many people as we can to safety.  It’s all very eye opening.”

Moran said he expects to have the school participate in an ALICE lockdown drill during lunch.

“It’s a very unorthodox procedure because students must act on their own judgement and teachers won’t have as much structure and organization over their students,” Moran said.

A large issue lies in the elementary school and how young children will handle a situation like this. Good judgment and critical thinking skills, attributes that are needed for ALICE to be executed successfully, may not be fully developed yet for these children.

“The main thing we want to do is give people options,” said Hilobuk. “One advantage when it comes to the elementary schools is since they’re so close together, if one thing happens at one school, they can take them to the other school.”

Not only can ALICE be applied to the classroom, but also in everyday life.

“It’s good life skills,” Hilobuk said, “you can be aware in other environments too.” It is evident that ALICE is a more effective lockdown method, and while hopefully it is a procedure we will never have to use, we will all be capable of performing it if need be.  As Moran said “ALICE is us fighting back.”