Alma School District will implement a teacher-principal evaluation pilot program during the 2013-14 school year.

Pam Treece, director of student services at Alma, spoke to school board members about the new program during their meeting Thursday night.

In 2011, Arkansas legislators passed the Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS) into law and the new system is set to be piloted statewide during the next school year. It will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

Treece explained the program, which involves evaluating teachers on areas outlined by Charlotte Danielson, a recognized expert in the area of teacher effectiveness and author of "Enhancing Professional Practice, A Framework for Teaching."

The goal of the system is to provide transparent and consistent teacher evaluation throughout the state, with feedback and support for improvement, Treece said.

"You know, we can’t change the background factors [of kids], the kids come to us with those. But we can change and make an impact on teachers and their standards," Treece said.

Licensed teachers, including guidance counselors, speech therapists and media specialists, will be evaluated on four areas: planning and preparation; the classroom environment; instruction; and professional responsibilities.

Teachers will be evaluated by principals, who in turn will be evaluated by superintendents and their assistants. All administrators must pass an up to six hour credential test.

Teachers scores will be from one to four, categorized as unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.

While all teachers may hope to score distinguished, Treece said that is not usually the case.

"Your target is to be proficient, and it’s okay to be basic," Treece said.

The important thing is for teachers to be aware of areas that need work, and to outline plans for improvement, she said.

"It’s a change; it’s a flip-flop from what I’m used to as an educator," Treece said. "However, it’s what’s right."

After Superintendent David Woolly expressed support for the program, school board member Mike Higgins asked if the end result of evaluation could lead to the dismissal of a teacher.

Woolly agreed that it could, but emphasized that was not the point of the program.

"This is a system to help [teachers] improve themselves," Woolly said.

The biggest change is for principals, who must cease being building managers and become instructional leaders, Woolly said.

"It’s a huge undertaking as a whole, but at the end of the day it’s going to be a big improvement, especially for the students," Woolly said.

Also during the Thursday meeting, Woolly discussed the upcoming year’s budget. While he stressed that the district is not in fiscal distress, he said there would have to be "a little belt tightening."

With lower enrollment numbers and stagnant local taxes, which he blames on the recession, Woolly said money for the district is not as good as some previous years.

Some areas that may see some "pulling back" are the number of field trips, and the number of students taking trips and possibly the end-of-the-year raise that the school board normally approves.

"We’re going to try to be as fair as we can to everyone - every student, every organization," Woolly said, adding that he hoped to make the process "painless."