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Project LIFT tries new ways to pay top teachers

By Ann Doss Helms ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

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  • Opportunity Culture

    Here are the jobs being advertised for 2013-14 at Allenbrook Elementary, Ranson Middle and Ashley Park and Thomasboro preK-8 schools. Learn more at www.projectLIFTcharlotte.org

    Multiclassroom leader

    • Leads a team of teachers in a grade level or subject area. Leader is responsible for student progress in all classrooms, decides the strategies the team will use and co-teaches some classes.

    • Leaders hired to oversee four or more teachers and at least 400 students will earn a $23,000 annual supplement. Those hired to oversee a smaller group will earn an additional $16,100.

    • Positions available: 12.

    Blended learning teacher

    • Uses technology to reach larger groups of students. For instance, one group might be working online while the teacher works personally with another group. Teacher must be able to create lessons that incorporate technology.

    • Annual supplement: $9,200.

    • Positions: About six.

    Extended impact teacher

    • Works with teacher assistants, tutors or other paraprofessionals to reach larger groups of students.

    • Annual supplement: $9,200.

    • Positions: Four (Thomasboro only).

    Specialized elementary teacher

    • Focuses on one or two subjects, such as math and science. Teachers are relieved of other duties and teach these subjects to students from several classes.

    • Annual supplement: $4,700.

    • Positions: Four (Allenbrook only).


  • More information

    CMS pay plan

    An update on a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools proposal to revise teacher pay to reward student results and leadership is scheduled for Tuesday’s board meeting. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St., Charlotte.



Teachers at four Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools will be able to earn up to $23,000 a year extra for sharing their skills with colleagues and larger numbers of students, as part of a pilot program sponsored by Project LIFT.

Teachers at all nine of the low-performing westside schools that Project LIFT is trying to improve are eligible for performance-based bonuses up to $2,500 next fall.

Across the country, public schools are trying to shake up the way teachers are paid. The goal is to create higher-paying jobs to keep the best instructors in classrooms longer, especially in the schools that struggle most to keep them.

On Tuesday, the CMS board will get an update on a proposal to revamp the districtwide pay plan. The state has invited districts to submit such plans by March 1.

Project LIFT, a public-private partnership to boost achievement in the West Charlotte High feeder zone, is using its flexibility and tapping its $55 million in pledged donations to step ahead of the pack. A new approach to teacher pay has become an unstoppable national push, said Project LIFT Zone Superintendent Denise Watts.

“Whether people want to understand it, whether people want to believe it, whether people want to resist it, it’s coming,” she said Friday. “I think the role of Project LIFT is to have influence in defining what it looks like.”

Rewarding superteachers

The most dramatic change will start with a small group of teachers. About two dozen teachers will be hired for new positions at Allenbrook Elementary, Ranson Middle and Ashley Park and Thomasboro preK-8 schools next year, with pay hikes ranging from $4,700 to $23,000.

The goal is to get highly effective teachers into posts where they can help inexperienced or struggling colleagues while continuing to work with students. Each school will decide which grade levels or subject areas need a boost.

A leader could take charge of several classrooms, planning lessons and making sure each teacher in the group knows how to carry them out. Or a skilled teacher could “be in two places at once” using technology or assistants to carry out lessons tailored to student needs, said Dan Swartz, who does human resources for Project LIFT.

The idea of creating a “career ladder” for teachers is hardly new. For decades, the only way for teachers to get significant raises and expand their influence has been to move into administration.

Dozens of CMS teachers have been working on a districtwide plan, and proposals presented at recent public meetings looked a lot like the Project LIFT jobs. But at the district level, the most challenging details — including pay — have not been publicly disclosed.

Project LIFT got guidance from Public Impact, a Chapel Hill consulting firm. The Carnegie Corp. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided $1 million to develop an “ Opportunity Culture” program, with Project LIFT as one of the first to put it into practice. One of the requirements: any such plan must be financially sustainable. Across the country and in CMS, many pilot plans for merit pay or bonuses have disappeared when grant money or other special funding ran out.

The new posts at the four LIFT schools will be paid for by eliminating other jobs, Watts said. Because the highly-paid and highly-skilled teachers will reach more students than an ordinary teacher, schools can eliminate a teacher or facilitator job to provide the money, she said. That means if the program works, it can continue even after the private donations run out in 2017.

Watts and her administrative team are interviewing for the new jobs, with applicants including LIFT teachers, those in other CMS schools and teachers from outside. The emphasis is not on longevity — depending on the job, minimum experience ranges from one to two years — but on demonstrated classroom skill and leadership.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Watts said.

Performance bonuses

A separate program, “Compensation for Greatness,” allows faculty in all the LIFT schools to earn bonuses for student growth on 2013 reading exams. The maximum bonus is $4,000 for principals and $2,500 for teachers.

If 60 percent of students at their school show more than one year’s growth in reading, faculty will earn 80 percent of that; the other 20 percent comes if all schools in the LIFT zone hit that mark.

North Carolina provided ABC bonuses based on test-score growth for several years, then abolished them when the budget tightened during the recession.

The LIFT bonuses will be paid with about $1 million in private money, which means they could expire in five years. But LIFT has always been touted as an incubator for ideas that, if proven successful, could eventually be covered by public money.

Watts said the Compensation for Greatness program is more comprehensive than the old ABC approach. For instance, individual teachers who show the biggest gains are eligible for the LIFT Executive Club, which brings a $5,000 innovation grant and such recognition as being picked up in a limo for dinner with the superintendent. Schools can win additional money, from $5,000 for elementary schools to $10,000 for middle and high schools, if they show gains on measures of school culture and morale, such as attendance, parent engagement and student behavior.

CMS plan?

As of Friday, there was no indication of how close the LIFT plan is to the CMS compensation proposal, or even whether the district still plans to submit a plan to the state by March 1.

Tuesday’s agenda calls only for an update to “share the key objectives, journey and framework components of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Teacher Compensation Task Force work,” with no details attached. Earlier this month, Chief Operating Officer Millard House said a proposal would be made public on Feb. 26.

Chief Communication Officer Kathryn Black said Friday that no one would be available to talk about the status of the proposal until after Tuesday’s board meeting.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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