Merit pay program gets ready to debut

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The 10 schools slated to pilot a merit pay and professional development program for teachers this fall have given the edge to their own faculties when hiring lead teachers for the initiative, according to interviews with principals.

At nine schools Catalyst spoke with, 10 of 13 lead teachers already hired came from within school faculties.

Schools are still hiring for the pilot, which will include 17 lead teachers and 32 mentor teachers, says Sylvia Flowers, senior manager for the program.

Based on the well-regarded Teacher Advancement Program, Chicago’s merit pay initiative will provide training, coaching and mentoring for teachers, and a career ladder. The lead and mentor teachers are the linchpin of the program. After this year’s test run with 10 schools, another 30 will join over the next four years. The pilot is funded with a $27.5 million federal grant and is the largest such experiment with performance pay in the country. (See Catalyst, December 2006.)

At Gresham Elementary, Principal Diedrus Brown interviewed three outsiders as well as three of her own teachers for two lead teacher positions. In the end, she chose two of her veterans, both “well-respected in the school” and already serving as leaders, she says.

All the candidates were “outstanding,” Brown says, but she preferred her own teachers. “I was more familiar with them and their skills,” she says. “If there was a possibility that I could work with an outside candidate to build a relationship, I might have selected a lead from outside.”

At Cameron Elementary, Principal David Kovach interviewed 10 teachers from outside his school, as well as insiders, for three lead teacher positions. So far, he has filled two of the slots: one of his own teachers and a teacher from Kohn Elementary in Roseland.

All the candidates were initially screened by Flowers and the manager for professional development, Stacy Hunt. Flowers was director of teacher training and development in Wilmington, Delaware before joining CPS. Hunt was a principal in Gary, Indiana.

A chance to grow

The mentor and lead teachers will coach and observe their colleagues, conduct meetings, analyze student performance data to determine what skills teachers need to emphasize in their instruction and ensure the school’s achievement goals are being met. Mentor teachers will continue to teach, but lead teachers will be freed of classroom duties and will assist the principal with supervising the program. Mentors will receive $7,000 in additional pay; lead teachers, $15,000.

A leadership team at each school—comprised of the principal, assistant principal and lead and mentor teachers—will implement the program. In July, teams from four participating schools attended a weeklong training on team members’ roles, classroom observation and how to analyze performance data. They also learned how to create individual plans for each teacher at a school to help them improve instruction.

LEARN Charter Principal Courtney Francis says the training was “comprehensive and specific,” adding that the program is “a great opportunity for growth. [Teaching is] one of the few professions that haven’t had much of that.”

The Teacher Advancement Program, known as TAP, is overseen by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Todd White, senior vice president of training at the Institute, says the goal is to give teachers a new mindset focused on improved performance.

Says White, “You are changing the way you think, which will change the way you act.”