Aspire Public Schools do things differently than traditional public schools, evaluations included.
They use a blend of student and parent opinions, multiple classroom visits per year and test scores to determine whether a teacher is doing his or her job of educating students.
It seems to be working. Aspire Vincent Shalvey Academy in North Stockton, for example, has won much acclaim at being among Lodi Unified's top scorers on the annual Academic Performance Index.
"We have to measure student growth as part of the evaluation process to make sure students are growing and learning. In order for students to grow, you have to have effective teachers," Principal Karla Fachner said, adding that she absolutely believes Aspire's teacher evaluations are why student scores are so high.
Aspire has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to put into place meaningful teacher evaluations at other high-performing charter schools. As part of the charter's "College for Certain" mission, teacher evaluations are an emphasis.
Fachner, alongside five lead teachers, not only makes classroom observations up to six times a year, but also considers student academic growth and feedback from peers as part of the new evaluation rubric.
"We study this with teachers so there are no surprises," Fachner said of the form. "Teachers know what they're striving for. There's nothing scary about it."
Third-grade teacher Dawn Drake feels the detailed annual evaluations she receives there have challenged her to grow as an instructor since leaving her public school teaching job after 19 years.
"I was a good teacher before I came to Aspire, but the fact that we're always changing and doing in-depth analysis has made me such a stronger teacher," she said, adding that the evaluations are rigorous.
In the public school system, Drake termed her evaluation a "one-shot deal." At Aspire, she said, there's a lot of dropping in to see how teachers are doing. Fachner, the school's principal since 1992, will leave behind a note that tells Drake what she's doing well, or one with a probing question about what wasn't going so well.
Aspire plans to use results from a database of 7,000 students to compare how they are doing compared to their peers. The so-called student growth percentile measures how much a student has learned one year compared to the next, compared to students with the same scores on the California Standardized Test.
Drake recognizes it can be unsettling to have student data worked into her annual evaluation, but it's the only way she knows for sure she's doing her job, she said, adding that it clearly shows what standards she didn't teach so well.
"Data don't lie. When it all comes down to it, student learning is on my back," Drake said.
The school also solicits surveys from students and parents. Drake said the process is important, and while brutally honest, the comments give her pause to think about things that she can change or incorporate into her classroom.
"I've never been offended by anything anyone says because it's all about making my students grow as academic learners," Drake said. "After all, they're our clients and we want to have good customer service."
Aspire — which was portrayed in the movie "Waiting for Superman" — is part of the Lodi Unified School District. However, the organization hires and reviews its own teachers, and most are not members of the local teachers' union.
"We have a much more rigorous review system and are putting information in front of our teachers constantly," Douglass said, adding that it comes to light sooner if a teacher is not doing his or her job. "We are not shy in talking about that. We feel we probably do a better job than public schools at retaining our best teachers."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.