by dave gymburch Staff writer

An online principals’ letter objecting to a controversial state evaluation plan for educators has been signed by at least 26 principals in Oneida County, including two Rome elementary administrators, among more than 1,200 statewide.

Principals Judith Mullin of Stokes and Sheila Spencer of Ridge Mills are on the letter’s list of signers, which has been growing since it was posted by two Nassau County principals in late 2011.

Also listed are Adirondack Middle School Principal Patricia Thomas; Camden district elementary Principals Craig Ferretti and Sharon Kirch plus Middle School Principal Mary Walker; Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Middle School Principal Jim Kramer and elementary Principal James Rozwod; five principals in New Hartford and six in Utica, among others.

In addition, the letter has been signed by over 4,000 more people in education fields including some from colleges as well as outside the state. Among them are more than 20 teachers and other administrative positions from Oneida County school districts, including about 15 from Utica.

The evaluation plan, which calls for adding students’ test performance to criteria for rating teachers and principals, drew more attention last week when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threatened to withhold state aid from school districts that have not implemented the system by next January. Delays in launching the plan have put at risk a federal award of $700 million in "Race to the Top" money for New York. Further complications include a legal battle between the state Education Department and the state teachers union, plus laws providing for school districts to negotiate final details in new union contracts; for example, current Rome district contracts with teachers and principals do not expire until June 2013.

The principals’ online "open letter of concern" raises several objections to the new emphasis on student test results. Among various points, it states that "our students are more than the sum of their test scores, and an overemphasis on test scores will not result in better learning."

In response, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. issued a statement that "the principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing in the design of the evaluation system." But he said "the bottom line is we have to make changes to help our students make progress. Teacher and principal evaluations are essential, and delay only denies students the best education we can give them....It’s time for the adults to do what’s necessary for the good of the children."

The principals’ letter and its signees are at