‘We live in a video world’

I attended a board meeting last week for Washington County Schools in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The topic of camera’s in the classroom was a topic discussed to some extent.

Cameras pulled from classrooms

Published in Herald & Tribune March 4, 2014 issue

After concerns surfaced last month about cameras being used as a new teachers’ evaluation tool in Washington County classrooms,  the process was stopped immediately, Director of Schools Ron Dykes told school board officials at a called meeting on Feb. 25.

“Teachers are under enough pressure,” Dykes said. “We wanted this to be a supported element that they would find helpful in assisting them.”

Dykes said he has no intention of re-implementing the cameras until he receives a mandate from the state or clearance of legalities that have been raised.

According to Dykes, most teachers have a formal evaluation two to four times a year, and the cameras were intitially considered a way to help in that evaluation.

“We have spent considerable amount of money in providing professional development, as well as administrator staff and curricular support personnel to work in the classroom and help our teachers improve instruction,” Dykes said.

The State of Tennessee, he said, notified the district that additional assistance would be provided in the form of cameras that takes video of the instruction during the evaluation. Dykes said the state department said it was the new wave of observations.

The funds for the cameras came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This 30- or 50-minute video was going to be shared between evaluator and the teacher being evaluated,” he said. “These cameras were never intended to film a classroom. They were simply intended to film an observation of a teacher teaching.”

Dr. William Flanary, director of secondary education and career technical education, said he attended a single-day training session in November and brought back enough cameras for each school. The session was conducted by the manufacturer of the cameras, thereNow, and Tennessee Department of Education personnel.

The camera, Flanary said, sits on its own tripod, has two lenses and a cordless microphone that the teacher could wear. He said the two lenses fold up and can be pointed independently of each other.

“With some practice, you could get an entire classroom,” Flanary said.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides keys to the camera only to the individuals who are certified in doing an evaluation.

Board Member Phillip McClain said some of the teachers called him about their concerns. He said they were under the impression the video went to a “Cloud” and then a third party.

Board Member David Hammond agreed, saying the teachers he heard from were more worried about the videos being sent to a third party.

Dykes said the videos are encrypted and are only used for the teacher and observer.

The video is uploaded to a secure website and the only person who has access to view that video was the administrator who created it, Flanary said.

Ideally, he said, their hope was to have the teacher sit down with the administrator while watching the video. After it concluded, a conversation would take place on how to become a better teacher.

Flanary said the key holder would delete the video after the video was viewed.

Faculty meetings were already being held to explain the purpose behind the camera, as well as its functionality.

Board Member Jack Leonard said he believes the presentation of the camera program should have been rolled out in a different manner.

“Teachers are always wanting to improve their instruction,” he said. “Their evaluation is too important to their job not to improve.”

Board Member Mary Lo Silvers said as a retired teacher, she believes she would appreciate the camera program.

“I would want to know what I was doing wrong,” she said. “I would wholeheartedly support it. That is the best way in the world to show how a person could improve themselves.”

Dykes said the concept of the video was it would eventually form a database of some excellent instruction that would be used around the nation with the teachers’ permission.

He told the board and staff who  attended the meeting that “we live in a video world.” When a student steps on a bus every morning, he is on video, Dykes added.

He went on to say that a student is also on video when he or she walks into the school, walks the hall, eats in the cafeteria, goes to the gymnasium or sits in a classroom.

The reason for this is security.

Cameras, Dykes said, have been used in the classrooms in some fashion for 24 years.

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