By Sammy Roth
Teachers spend a lot of time grading tests, commenting on essays and writing comments for report cards. But even as teachers evaluate their students, they face another task: evaluating themselves. At the beginning of the school year, every faculty member begins a self-evaluation process which can impact his or her salary for the next year.
In the budget they present each year to the Board of Trustees for approval, President of Harvard-Westlake Tom Hudnut, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and the Business Office designate a certain amount of money for salary increases. But not every faculty member receives the same raise. With the self-evaluations as a key factor, Huybrechts determines exactly how large a raise each faculty member deserves.
Salary increases at Harvard-Westlake have always been based on merit, and this is also the case at many independent schools, Huybrechts said.
“Itâs not unusual in public school for increases to be based on some set scale that is sometimes but not always established by a union, and that seems inherently unfair, because not every teacher is alike,” Huybrechts said.
This year, the average raise was three percent. Raises are based primarily on self-evaluations because of the quality of the teachers, Director of Studies Deborah Dowling said.
“Because we have such a high caliber of teachers, we figure that the best evaluator of most of them is themselves,” Dowling said.
“I think that professionals take what they do very seriously, so that external evaluations on a regular basis are almost unnecessary,” Upper School Math Department Head Paula Evans said. “And thatâs where I think this process is so wonderful, because it recognizes that.”
The self-evaluation starts in September, when faculty members write a report detailing their goals for the upcoming school year, including their plans for improving their teaching techniques. This “professional development” can be anything from attending conferences and workshops to working with school Technology Integration Specialist Jennifer Lamkins on how to use technology in the classroom, Dowling said. In January, faculty members write about how they have contributed to the school, detailing contributions such as clubs they have sponsored, community service trips they have organized and curriculum they have helped develop.
Then in February or March, Huybrechts, Dowling and either Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra or Head of Middle School Ronnie Cazeau meet with each middle school and upper school department head. At these meetings, which Evans said last about one hour and 15 minutes, the department heads tell Huybrechts about what each faculty member said in his or her self-evaluation. They also give their own evaluation of the teachers based on having watched them work and meeting with them throughout the year, Upper School English Department Head Larry Weber said. Salamandra and Cazeau sometimes report information they have heard from students, Huybrechts said.
Huybrechts explained that finalizing salaries is often difficult.
“One teacher teaches five classes, and coaches a team and does committees. That would seemingly be contributing a lot to the school,” Huybrechts said. “Whereas there might be another teacher who doesnât coach a team, but does a tremendous amount of curriculum development for their academic team and who is just an outstanding teacher in a difficult course. So it is very difficult to compare those two teachers.”
“I canât say that thereâs an absolute way, that thereâs a specific algorithm for calculating a salary increase,” Huybrechts said. “It is complicated.”
Evans said the self-evaluations are a fair way for teachers to be represented to the administration.
“They write the basis of it. So they have a control,” Evans said. “If theyâre not fairly represented, itâs because they didnât represent themselves well.”
She added that she sometimes puts her own emphasis on parts of the teachersâ self-evaluations.
“Iâm really proud of all my colleagues, and I think sometimes in our society we try to not say too much when weâre speaking for ourselves,” she said.
Weber said he likes to excerpt some part of each teacherâs self-evaluation in his report to Huybrechts.
“I mostly see myself as an advocate for the excellent teachers who work here,” Weber said.
Although the self-evaluation is important in determining salary increases, it is not the only factor Huybrechts considers. She said she gives teachers larger than average increases at “pivotal points in their careers.”
“For example, if a teacher after a couple of years has just proven to be invaluable and just an outstanding teacher, then that teacher might expect a bigger than usual raise,” Huybrechts said.
She said this early, large raises are important in helping ensure that good teachers stay at the school, especially in a city as expensive as Los Angeles.
But on the whole, Huybrechts said, faculty members generally do not receive wildly different salary increases.
“It is the norm for teachers at this school to be very good at what they do,” she said. “So there are not big fluctuations in salary increases as a result of that, because almost everybody is doing a very, very good job.”