CMS woos its top teachers to make move

Dozens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's best teachers gathered at Waddell High Thursday to hear Superintendent Peter Gorman's pitch to consider switching schools.

He's offering big bonuses – $20,000 over three years – to get top teachers into seven struggling high-poverty schools. Last week Gorman named new principals for those schools; they also made speeches to the teachers on Thursday.

“Think about it. Pray about it. Talk to others,” Gorman told the teachers.

CMS invited about 960 teachers whose students made above-average academic gains last year; about 200 attended the meeting. To qualify for the bonuses, they must also have three years of good evaluations.

“It's like an affirmation of your teaching,” said Jeanne Ebert, who teaches fifth grade at Elizabeth Lane Elementary. “Someone recognizes, ‘You've done a great job and we'd like you to help these children.' ”

Others worried about students and co-workers they'd leave behind if they transfer. Some are already teaching in high-poverty, low-scoring schools.

Last year, English teacher Christa Joyce helped a group of freshmen at low-scoring, high-poverty Garinger High earn some of the district's highest test scores.

Now three of 17 teachers at New Technology High, the Garinger school-within-a-school where Joyce works, are eligible for the bonuses if they switch to Ranson Middle, Joyce said.

“My concern is if you take three very good, excellent teachers from a principal, how will he replace us with equally good teachers?” Joyce said. “It took the good teachers to bring it up. Are we going to go down again where we started?”

For years – even before Gorman's arrival in 2006 – CMS has offered signing bonuses and other perks in hopes of getting strong, experienced teachers into the neediest schools. Those efforts have had limited success. Gorman acknowledges too many top administrators and teachers still move on to higher-performing schools, often in more affluent areas.

This time, by hiring star principals and letting them hand-pick a teaching and administrative team, Gorman hopes to add the lure of better working conditions, which many teachers say is more important than money.

Curtis Kendrick and Andre Dixon, both math teachers at Garinger's Business and Finance School, say they're undecided. At Garinger, Kendrick said, teachers often dig into their own pockets if they want to try innovative projects. He wonders if the new schools will offer resources to be creative.

CMS Chief Academic Officer Ruth Perez said she knows the teachers face tough choices: “It's a life-changing move for them.”

Gorman warned last week that all schools could be affected by this plan, as principals, assistant principals and teachers are shuffled.

The new principals have the power to bump faculty from the schools they're taking over. Those people will be reassigned this summer. Gorman says he won't let the principals pluck too many top people from any one school.

That ripple effect began Thursday, when families at Community House Middle School learned their principal, Gifford Lockley, will move to Nations Ford Elementary next year to replace Suzanne Gimenez, who is charged with turning around Devonshire Elementary.

Gimenez has led Nations Ford, in south Charlotte, since 1997.

Lockley opened Community House, in the southern Ballantyne area, in 2005. He is among 48 principals Gorman recently named as pioneers of a new level of academic freedom, based on high performance. He will take that flexibility to Nations Ford.