Unfunded mandates can hinder cash-strapped school districts and municipalities throughout the Commonwealth.
But one from the Pennsylvania Department of Education might improve the quality of instruction provided in classrooms throughout the Warren County School District.
The Curriculum, Instruction and Technology committee moved to the full board a request for the purchase of a program called Teachscape Walk which will allow building principals to gather data obtained through teacher evaluations in real time.
Funding for the program will come from a grant received through the Obama administration educational reform package "Race to the Top." The district has been awarded $60,899 and the money is earmarked for "participating local entities to adopt and implement Pennsylvania's Educator Effectiveness Instruments and to use the evaluation process and results to inform local decisions regarding professional development and staff retention in support of student achievement."
Funds from the grant will also be used to purchase iPad computers for building principals to collect data through "brief, targeted classroom observations."
Brian Collopy, WCSD coordinator of technology/information management, told the committee that the software will "expedite the observation and collection process."
"Basically, next year the state will be mandating use of this program," Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel said. While noting that this is an unfunded mandate, he added that "this is a phenomenal program" that will help inform administration on how they can best help teachers improve. "It will be well worth what we're spending. It will quickly report on what is happening in the classroom." Appropriate professional development can then be provided in the areas where teachers have room for growth.
"I'm excited to bring this aboard," he added.
Board member Tom Knapp asked whether this is a one time fee or whether this will require an annual renewal. "We'll have to pay a fee every year," Hufnagel said. "This is a one year license."
Director of Secondary Education Amanda Hetrick said that the $26,000 cost includes all of the professional development training required to empower staff to be able to use the program. She said that those who are trained will then have the ability to train additional district staff members and that the program will have an annual recurring cost of approximately $16,000.
Hufnagel reiterated though, "this is something we're going to be mandated to purchase anyways."