By Mike Marsee
Shelee Clark’s curiosity might well have made every school in Hardin County better.
Clark wanted to know more about a new evaluation system and she wanted to help her colleagues understand it as well. That led her into a unique position in her district as the director of implementation for the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES).
She spent a year away from her post as principal of Lakewood Elementary School, taking a difficult step into unfamiliar territory to help other principals and teachers better understand a system she now strongly believes in.
“I wouldn’t have done that job last year had I not,” Clark said. “Yes, it still has parts that are confusing. Yes, it has parts that need to be tweaked a little bit. But overall, it is a much better system than what we had before.
“The kind of feedback that you give teachers now with this system is so much powerful than what we gave before, and the kind of reflections that they’re giving as well.”
Clark’s journey to that conclusion began when she took a long, hard look at PGES when it was introduced in 2013.
“I really believe in a positive evaluation system. I knew the evaluation system we had wasn’t working very well, so I wanted to see what this one was about,” she said.
At a monthly principals’ meeting in 2013, Hardin County Superintendent Nanette Johnston asked for volunteers to participate in a pilot of the system. Even as the meeting continued, Clark was sending an email that made her one of the first to volunteer.
“I just do that to myself all the time,” Clark joked. “I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Clark and three other principals formed a pilot implementation group that met regularly to talk about what they were learning about PGES.
“From the very beginning, Shelee embraced the intent of the PGES system and its potential if implemented as designed by Charlotte Danielson,” Johnston said.
Clark went on to lead five of her staff members in the pilot, learning about the system as she went.
“I’m kind of nerdy and I like to research,” Clark said. “I read a lot about what I’m doing, so I started reading a lot on the KDE website and in the PGES newsletters, just trying to keep everybody up to date on what was happening.
“I would summarize it, I would watch the PGES webcast every month and take notes and send
those out to the pilot people. Just through a little extra research, it so happened that I became the PGES person.”
A lot of extra research, actually. Clark networked with administrators from neighboring districts and was part of a Kentucky Association of School Administrators panel that reviewed PGES modules produced by the association’s Kentucky Leadership Academy.
“I was gathering tons of information about PGES,” she said. “It was a good experience to be part of the pilot year and to learn from so many different people.”
Clark said she could tell even when she and her staff members at Lakewood were participating in the pilot that PGES was a better way.
“When I did the very first training with them and showed the ‘Framework for Teaching,’” she said, holding a copy of the document, “they were like, ‘This makes so much more sense.’ They liked it already, because we know that if your score is ‘developing,’ here’s exactly what we need to do to be ‘accomplished’ versus ‘meets’ or ‘does not meet.’ It just wasn’t specific before.”
Clark’s unofficial designation as Hardin County’s “PGES person” became official when she was asked to support the full roll-out of PGES by serving as the district’s director of implementation. Title II funds were used to create a temporary position.
“Shelee was instrumental in getting the answers to the numerous challenges we faced during that pilot year,” Johnston said. “We knew from that experience that our best chance of ensuring high levels of quality implementation was to have someone knowledgeable and driven to guide this work through individualized support. We wanted to provide extensive support for our administrators to ensure consistency and to reduce the frustrations associated with the challenges. That goal has been successfully accomplished.”
Clark said her first priority was making sure principals understood the system.
“My primary role was to train the trainers, because the principals should be the one to roll it out in their schools. That’s their role as part of the evaluation process,” she said.
Still, Clark said it was difficult to step away from Lakewood, even though she knew she would return in a year. Her children attended the school, and one of them still does.
“It was hard, because I do have a heart for the school,” she said.
Johnston said Clark’s work benefitted every school in the district.
“Every administrator in our district will echo that Shelee has been our saving grace throughout this process,” she said. “Our district would not be where we are with this implementation without the expertise of Shelee Clark.”
Clark said she learned that the best way to implement PGES is one piece at a time. She prepared a series of principal trainings, focusing on each component as the deadline for completing it approached.
“It’s always better to do training just in time,” she said. “If we’re getting ready to do self-reflection, we learn about self-reflection. If we’re getting ready to do student growth goals, we learn about student growth goals. Because when you present the whole system to people, it’s overwhelming to them. But if you do it in little tiny chunks, people take it a whole lot better.”
She said she also discovered that it was important for her to present the system with a positive attitude, taking a calm approach and assuring principals and teachers that it is doable.
Clark said she learned a great deal in her temporary post, and not just about PGES. For example, she attended school in Hardin County and has spent her entire teaching career there, but she hadn’t been to all of its schools prior to last year.
“I learned so much about being a school leader from the other leaders in the district, too, so it was a positive all the way around,” she said.
And her work isn’t done. The position Clark filled no longer exists and several different people are responsible for different elements of PGES, but she still talks about the system every month at the principals’ meeting.
Clark also stands at the ready to answer questions from her colleagues. She said she gets about 10 emails in a given day. She usually answers them after 4 p.m., as she wants to focus on her job at Lakewood during the school day.
“I’ve told the principals and directors at central office, ‘You can email me a question any time,’” Clark said. “I don’t want to leave anybody hanging. I feel like I have a professional responsibility to help people with this.”