Focusing on teaching quality
The Eagle County School District has dedicated itself to a bold and essential goal: We will place a well-trained and well-prepared teacher in front of every student, every day.Even as we make this promise, we acknowledge that goals are all well and good but that the measure of our schools is not in our aim but rather in our actuality. Saying we want good teachers for our students won’t make it happen. We must be dedicated and purposeful and we must make fundamental changes to our entire school system.What is the single, largest factor that affects student achievement? Teacher quality. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a simple recognition of what we all know. Good teachers help all kids learn. But for far too long, schools haven’t done everything they possibly could do make sure all teachers are great teachers. We are proud to say that we are doing things differently in Eagle County schools.Our Teacher Advancement Program is an innovative effort, based on solid research and dedicated to the goal of giving teachers the tools, time and training they need to get results in their classrooms. The program fosters teamwork within schools as teachers seek ways to meet the needs of students. Ultimately, the program provides financial rewards to our top performing teachers. And as we begin this discussion, we must reiterate that the Eagle County Schools District pays nothing to the Milken Family Foundation to operate its Teacher Advancement Program. Erroneous reports continue to circulate that this effort is a financial drain to our schools. This simply isn’t true. Our schools are on a strong financial footing. Furthermore, the Teacher Advancement Program works in unison with our budget. We acknowledge up front that the Teacher Advancement Program represents a significant change in operations for Eagle County schools. Change is difficult and can lead to confusion and misinformation. Why are we willing to take on this challenge and open ourselves to questions and criticism? Because what we have done in the past hasn’t been effective. We believe we can do better for our students. We believe that this effort represents a workable and realistic framework to improve student achievement. We are proud of this program, and we are proud of the capable and dedicated teachers who work in our system. This program is about advancing their careers and their abilities.It’s often hard for people in the working world to gasp this idea, but prior to the institution of our Teacher Advancement Program, Eagle County schools had no formalized method for our teachers to interact with one another. Some schools and some teachers collaborated regarding lesson plans or instructional plans, but there was no mechanism in place to foster these efforts. Even more telling, there was no formal process in which veteran teachers could share their experiences with newcomers to the profession. Imagine working in an office where the marketing department had no formal interaction with the sales department. In the past, teachers were expected to get exceptional results in isolation. That’s not a fair expectation.In the Teacher Advancement Program model, teachers meet in small groups for a minimum of two hours every week. During this formal “cluster” time, teachers learn about effective teaching methods. They discuss individual students and what works instructionally with them. The Eagle County School District has a wealth of professionalism in its teaching ranks, but before now we had no way to mine that resource. Consider this: Ten years ago, the Eagle County school calendar contained one teacher training day for a total of seven training hours. Today, every Eagle County teacher compiles more than 70 hours of training time during the course of a school year. That’s what we mean when we talk about well-trained teachers having a positive effect on student achievement.What are kids doing when teachers are learning? They are experiencing a normal school day. Students have never spent 100 percent of their time in a single classroom. They participate in art, music and physical education. They take advantage of their school libraries and computer labs. The Teacher Advancement Program takes advantage of these times when students are outside of their regular classrooms to provide teachers with time to collaborate and enhance their skills.We know we can’t discuss the Teacher Advancement Program in Eagle County schools without addressing the single most contentious part of the effort, performance pay. The idea of paying teachers based on an evaluation-student progress model rather than a stringent salary schedule that rewards longevity rather than ability is a hot button topic, not only locally, but throughout the United States. We are thrilled that we can finally reward our best teachers. There are amazing professionals within our schools who are making huge impacts in kids’ lives. We are excited that we can finally acknowledge the work they do and reward them financially. The Teacher Advancement Program has made that possible and we are very grateful to our community for supporting a school ballot initiative in November of 2002 to make this possible.As we look across Colorado, we are proud to say this year our teachers will see a substantial financial benefit from the Teacher Advancement Program. The Colorado Legislature approved only a 1.1 percent increase in K-12 education funding this fall. That means most schools in this state will be looking at minimal teacher raises, salary freezes or reductions in force. In contrast, because of our performance pay program, our teachers will see salary increases up to 2.25 percent. Additionally, all teachers received bonuses of between 2 percent to 5 percent of their salaries. In closing, we will continually work hard to improve the Eagle County schools’ Teacher Advancement Program. We know it is a complex reform and we know people have questions. We invite anyone who would like to learn more about this effort or who would like to address other school-related topics, to attend Meet the Superintendent sessions planned Thursday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Battle Mountain High School and Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Eagle County School District’s administrative office in Eagle. Additionally, information about our schools can be found on our Web site, http://www.eagleschools.netWe are looking forward to great things in Eagle County schools as we work to educate every student for success.Members of the Eagle County Schools Board of Education are President Scott Green, Andy Arnold, Louise Funk, Connie Kincaid-Strahan, Mary Ann Stavney, Carri Tedstrom and Keith Thompson.Vail Colorado
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