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Ads to back change to teacher-rating plan

Dr. Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School

Dr. Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in the East Williston School District. (Feb 15, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Public school principals opposed to New York's teacher evaluation system are contributing to buy full-page ads in an Albany publication asking lawmakers to reconsider the plan, according to Long Island educators leading the charge.

The group is putting its appeal in the Legislative Gazette, an 8,000-circulation weekly newspaper that focuses on state governance and issues, said Sean Feeney, president of the Nassau County High School Principals' Association.

The publication, a staple for lawmakers, is free and available throughout the statehouse. Full-page ads cost $2,764, said Glen Vadney, the newspaper's general manager.

Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, said the ads will be paid for with donations from principals who pledged support.

"Our commissioner has long said this ship has already set sail," Feeney said of state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. "But none of us believe we should watch our schools drift off into uncertain waters."

Feeney has met with King to discuss educators' objections to the new evaluation system. King has been unwavering, saying the evaluations are critical to the state obtaining more than $700 million in federal Race to The Top money.

Dispute over elements of the ratings system, which ties student performance on standardized tests to teachers ratings, led New York's largest teachers union to file a lawsuit against the state. After months in legal limbo, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state Education Department and the unions in February announced agreement on a teacher-evaluation template for school districts statewide.

Cuomo has said that any district that doesn't implement its new teacher-evaluation system by January will have to forgo its share of an increase in school aid planned for this year.

The Legislature is slated in coming weeks to consider budget bills that include the agreed-upon revisions in the teacher evaluation plan.

The latest push by the grassroots group to grab lawmakers' attention comes after Feeney and Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, drafted an open letter last fall asking state officials to slow down and undertake a pilot program of the new system.

More than 1,400 principals throughout New York have signed the letter. It has a total of about 6,100 signatures, including hundreds of teachers who signed after New York City released its controversial teacher ratings last month. That data, which had a large margin of error according to city education officials, listed teachers by name.

The principals are asking that teachers' ratings not be released to the public. They say the system is so flawed it needs to be tested for two years.

"I'm not against accountability, but I am against a system that will lead to 'teaching to the test' and competition among teachers to get the best students," said Harry Leonardatos, principal of Clarkstown High School North in Rockland County.

He and other principals plan to gather Monday at South Side High for a photo that will be featured in the ad.

Gaurav Passi, principal of Long Beach High School, said the evaluation system will make aspiring teachers think twice about entering the field because they will be publicly judged.

"I really don't think our concerns have been heard," he said. "This is just not fair. Tests are designed to measure a child's performance, not a teacher's performance."

Feeney said King has acknowledged the group's concerns, but attributes their opposition to anxiety.

"We are not anxious principals," he said. "This is about a real disagreement about the direction being taken on this issue."

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