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Stepping toward TAP

Pam Holmes Boyd

Five schools<Gypsum Elementary School, Red Hill Elementary School, Avon Elementary School, Minturn Middle School and Red Canyon High School<have submitted applications to begin participating in the Eagle County School District’s ambitious new Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, beginning next fall.”We are excited about this program. Seeing that it is coming, we want to be on the front end of the process,” said Mark Strakbein, principal at Red Canyon High School.The controversial program, adopted by the local school board last month, has been the focus of heated objection from the local teachers union. From the beginning, the district said it wanted to launch the program in at least five schools for the 2002-03 term, with five more coming online the next year and the final five in 2004-05.Under the new plan, teachers will not receive automatic pay increases every year. Instead, they will earn additional money through a combination of student performance gains as measured by the Colorado Student Achievement Program, or CSAP, and other methods.Along with the changes to teacher compensation, the plan represents a comprehensive change in how schools operate, emphasizing collaboration between teachers. Staff training efforts and “master” and “mentor” teachers will be identified in each school and given training and evaluation responsibilities in addition to their teaching duties.Red Canyon is the district’s smallest school. The alternative high school operates classes at both the Miller Ranch ranch house and the Community United Methodist Church in Eagle. Red Canyon boasts only seven staff members. But, Strakbein said, the alternative high school is a good place to launch an innovative new program<considering there is no working TAP model at a high school anywhere in the country.”We are looking at our school next year to make this happen and pull it off. We truly see this as a positive way to increase student achievement,” said Strakbein.Minturn Middle School is one of the district’s smaller buildings, too, with less than 200 students enrolled. Principal Toni Sindlinger said the small school atmosphere is one of the reasons why all 19 members of the Minturn Middle staff signed the district’s TAP application.”Collegiality is huge in the TAP program. The teachers here are supportive of each other,” she said. “They are excited about the program. They are excited about common planning times, and when you have a small school, that is usually very difficult.”With the unanimous decision by the Minturn Middle School staff to proceed with the district’s inaugural TAP effort, Sindlinger said, the school is now focused on developing a daily schedule to accommodate the program. Additionally, the search for master and mentor teachers will begin soon.”It really, truly is, in my opinion, a teacher-friendly program that will allow teachers to learn from one another. To me, that’s a huge benefit.”It’s a similar story at Gypsum Elementary School. Principal Mike Gass said the final TAP application included the signatures of approximately 90 percent of his staff. He acknowledged that some of those signatures came from staff members who remain skeptical about the program.”As we go through this process, we want to make sure we remember the concerns of those people,” he said.Gass said Gypsum Elementary’s proven track record of working together to increase student achievement ultimately made the school a fertile ground for the TAP effort.”This staff is willing to go out and try things.”It’s like I told them: The lead rider takes a lot of arrows,” Gass said. However, he added, the schools involved in the inaugural year will get to shape what the program looks like in the future.Jerry Santoro, principal at Eagle Valley Middle School, agreed, saying the idea of being in on the ground floor of the TAP model was an enticement. However, he said, his staff opted not to be part of the program this year even though increasing student achievement is TAP’s stated goal.”The reason we are not proceeding with it at the moment is our scores have been going up,” he explained. “We hope this year reflects that continued growth.”A combination of unresolved questions surrounding the program<and the fact there is only one other middle school in the nation, besides Minturn Middle School<participating in the program, convinced his staff adopting the program would be an extremely energy-intensive effort.”Right now, we didn’t feel we were the ripest environment for it,” Santoro said.”We wish those schools who did (submit TAP applications) good luck. I think that the district is doing a lot of research on it,” said Santoro. “We hope as they craft this program, it has a good result for kids. That is the bottom line.”Lawsuit stalls teachers’ raisesTime will tell if the Eagle County School District has the money it needs to finance TAP’s performance-pay component.Last month, Michael Cacioppo of Edwards filed a lawsuit challenging the wording of last November’s Ballot Question 3D, which provided an additional $3.1 million to the local school district as a cost-of-living adjustment to the Colorado School Finance Act. Of that amount, two-thirds was allocated to the teachers as a cost-of-living pay raise while the remaining third was earmarked for a performance pay plan.Teachers began receiving the cost-of-living increase with their January paychecks. With the lawsuit pending, however, that extra money will evaporate this month. As a precaution, the district will revert to its December pay amounts.School board president Barb Schierkolk said the district is confident it will prevail against Cacioppo’s legal challenge, but prudence dictates it hold the contested funding in reserve to avoid any risk that employees would be asked to repay money they had received while the issue was challenged in the courts.The district has submitted its official response to the lawsuit and has filed its own motion to dismiss. In its response, the district asks the court to affirm the legality of Question 3D. The district also asks for the court to direct Cacioppo to pay the legal fees generated in defending the suit.The issue will not go to a jury trial. It will be settled with a judge’s ruling, instead.Because Cacioppo’s claim involves a Constitutional issue, the courts are directed to act in an expedient manner. If the court rules in the district’s favor, district employees will receive retroactive cost-of-living payments.In the meantime, the district is moving ahead with planning other components of its new TAP program.”There’s a lot more to the program than just performance pay,” said Schierkolk.


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