Q&A With Hillsborough County School District Leader Dr. David Steele

APRIL 2013

Dr. David Steele is Chief Information and Technology Office at Florida’s Hillsborough County School District, which includes the Tampa metro area and serves 197,000 students and 15,000 instructional staff. VARC has assisted Hillsborough County with value-added calculations.

Q: What are your positions in Hillsborough School District and can you describe them in a little detail?

David Steele: I’m the Chief Information Technology Officer for the district, but 90 percent of my time is spent overseeing our teacher effectiveness. My background is as a high school principal and math teacher, and at one point I was general director for secondary education. I became involved in teacher effectiveness work in 2009 and started putting it together and I’ve been in it since.

Q: When did you first decide to partner with VARC?

DS: During that fall, we had heard about several people across the country who were getting into value added. We met (VARC Director) Rob Meyer at conference in Washington DC. He was giving a presentation with one of the school district he had worked with in Wisconsin. We liked what we heard and invited him to do some interviews with our staff. Honestly, it was like night and day talking with Rob versus any of the other people we talked about regarding the project. We had the teachers union involved in every step of the way, because we did not want to institute a value-added system that the union did not like. I can speak for both union and ourselves, once we met with VARC staff, we did not want to meet with anyone else because we felt like we had met the people we wanted to work with.

Q: What separated VARC from the other programs you were looking at?

DS: The VARC team obviously is a leader in that field in the country. Some of the other people we talked to had just never done this on a large scale for a large school district. They had no good idea of how you would tackle non-tested subjects [subjects in which testing is not required by No Child Left Behind]. And Rob (Meyer)—everyone else was talking about what they could do, and he was able to talk about what he had done. It was just the confidence and experience he brought to the table that set him apart from everyone else.

Q: Have you been satisfied with the system VARC has helped you to create? What about it would you like to improve, if anything?

DS: As an administrator, part of my responsibility is making sure everything is accurate, but another part is making sure things are done on time and deadlines are met. Last October, as we were getting ready to run all of the final reports over the weekend, (VARC team member) Nandita (Gawade) got in touch with us Friday night, saying she just thought of a better way to do Algebra 1. Well, you know, it threw off the whole timeline and delayed our report for a day, but in the long run, we appreciated that, because we’d much rather get better data out a day late. That was another example of how her attention to detail sometimes drives us a little crazy but in the long run leads to a better result.

Q: Would you recommend VARC to other districts?

DS: We have had a great relationship with VARC. They are thoughtful, creative and meticulous with the work that they do. Whenever I talk about the work they’ve done for us, I always say we were lucky we found them as a partner. When you ask them to do something, you never hear, ‘We can’t do that.” Which isn’t to say they’ll do something just because we want to do it. They’re not afraid to push back, and we like that they’ll tell us which of our tests work and which don’t. But I do think VARC’s can-do attitude has been so important in getting us comfortable with working with them. And I think together we’ve created a really great system that’s helping students in Hillsborough County get a better education.