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King promotes state’s teacher evaluation czar

Over the last two years, Julia Rafal-Baer has been in charge of the State Education Department’s unit reviewing the 1,000-plus teacher evaluation plans submitted by districts across the state.

Now, she’s been promoted to assistant commissioner, a move that further cements some of the main changes that has resulted from New York state’s $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants.

Rafal-Baer has been at the head of the state education department’s teacher and leadership effectiveness unit for the last two years. It has been in charge of reviewing teacher evaluation plans, and also now works with districts to train principals and improve teacher recruitment and retention. Soon, that office will also manage Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new Teacher Excellence Fund, a $20 million pot to give teachers bonuses to work in low-income schools.

Not all of those changes have gone smoothly, especially those related to teacher evaluations. Districts rushed to submit plans ahead of a deadline set by Cuomo that would have withheld state funding. A little more than a year after that deadline passed, Rafal-Baer told the Regents that 483 districts “and counting” have already sought state approval to change their plans.

New York City, which is implementing its plan this year, is expected to also make changes before the start of the next school year.

Rafal-Baer joined the department after working as a fellow with the privately-funded Regents Research Fund, a group of temporary staff members who worked on the Race to the Top initiatives. Before that, she taught special education in the Bronx for two years and got her doctorate in education from Cambridge University.