A Jeffco Public Schools study on school structure and pay reform is expected to help prepare the district for changes required by the legislature.
The district’s strategic compensation pilot program, which is being tested in 20 Jeffco schools, is attempting to find out what kind of pay and support are effective in boosting students’ academic achievement. Results are expected to help the district reform the way it pays teachers while still focusing on student improvement.
The study lines up with changes that have been and will be implemented by Colorado Senate Bill 191. The bill, which was passed in 2010, is intended to improve teacher effectiveness by boosting accountability and partially linking teacher pay to student performance in school districts across the state.
In the 2010-11 school year, the bill required that teachers and principals statewide face more rigorous evaluation standards.
Beginning in 2013-14, half of teachers’ evaluations must be based on their students’ academic growth, and half of principals’ evaluations must be based on the growth of the entire school.
About the study
The Jeffco pilot program, which is in its second of four years, was funded by a $39 million federal grant, said Kristy Parsons, assistant director of strategic compensation.
Twenty elementary and middle schools, which were required to have at least half of their students receiving free and reduced-price lunch plans, were chosen for the study.
All 20 schools were given more master and mentor teachers to work with teachers on instruction, and teachers were given more time to review students’ scores to formulate plans to help children excel. Evaluators also spent more time in classrooms.
In addition, the 20 schools were broken into two groups: 10 are in a control group in which teachers received a participation stipend of 1 percent of their normal salary but weren’t paid extra for meeting student academic goals.
At the other 10 design schools, teachers were offered up to $15,000 in incentives if their students met academic progress goals.
The goals are measured through students’ progress from year to year. They are compared with students throughout Colorado, and the program requires students to improve at a greater-than-average rate for teachers to meet progress goals, Parsons said.
How the study relates to SB 191
When Senate Bill 191 was passed in 2010, Jeffco already was looking at how to research alternative pay models for teachers and staff, Parsons said.
“We began that years ago before 191 was even talked about,” she said.
The district had begun its grant application to fund its pilot program before the bill was approved by the legislature. Parsons said keeping an eye on the bill helped the district formulate its research plans.
“As we planned the details of it, we did have some idea of what was going to be required in 191, and we wanted to align our work as much as possible,” Parsons said. “We were strategic in the way we moved forward.”
The pilot aligns with the bill in a few ways, according to Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, including:
• Incorporating and/or evaluating the effectiveness of having peer evaluators for teachers.
• Systematically setting achievement goals for students.
• Extensively using a rubric to track instructors’ performances.
Representatives from three of the pilot schools explained how the program was working to school board members at the Dec. 13 board meeting.
Administration from Arvada’s Foster and Thomson elementary schools, which were both design schools in the pilot, and from control school Fitzmorris Elementary, also in Arvada, have had varying results from their participation.
Foster Elementary principal Leigh Hiester said the cultural changes brought about by the pilot program weren’t a major shift because her school has worked for years to have a collaborative staff. Having funds available to pay for master and mentor teachers — and being required to step up the peer evaluation process — did make a difference, however.
“We have really experienced rigor and accountability at Foster Elementary School,” Hiester said.
Fitzmorris Elementary did not pay its teachers extra money for meeting their goals, though it’s the only school in the control category that met them. Fitzmorris master teacher Mindi Feir credits the success to a shift in school culture.
“It was exciting for our staff to be that control school that did meet their goals,” Feir said. “We did a lot of work around building that collaborative culture among our teachers. … We really made being interdependent a priority in our school.”
Snags in the study
Parsons said issues with the $15,000 incentive and with more classroom evaluations have arisen.
The district structured the pay increases so that small groups of teachers must meet their goals for any of them to get the bonus money in a move it hoped would encourage teamwork, Parsons said.
Parsons heard from more than one school that the all-or-none requirements were causing divisiveness among teachers, some of whom felt they were doing their fair share while their co-workers weren’t.
“They don’t do it for the money, but when the money’s out there, and it’s hanging over them, it’s a lot of money,” Parsons said. “It just adds a whole other layer of stress.”
Some schools have avoided the problem all together, and others have minimized it. Parsons said the attitude of each school’s leadership seemed to play a role.
“I think some schools, because of the way that the leadership handled it, it didn’t destroy the culture,” Parsons said. “I’m sure there were hurt feelings, but they got over it.”
Hiester said her staff hasn’t seen much infighting because of the culture encouraged there.
“We do not talk about the money, and I think it’s all about how the leader frames it,” Hiester told board members. “We talk about saving kids’ lives. That’s how we’ve always talked about it.”
Parsons said some teachers have been resistant to the frequent evaluations they undergo in the pilot program.
“The teaching profession is so personal, and for some people, it’s everything that they are,” Hiester said, adding that some teachers initially felt they were being personally attacked.
Natalie Berges Tucker, a master teacher at Thomson Elementary, said she encountered some distrust from teachers who felt threatened by the new system. She said master teachers have had to work hard to let other teachers know they’re not there to attack them but rather to offer support.
“If we can look to our peers for what they can offer me, it creates more of a collaborative culture,” she said.
Still time remaining
Parsons and Stevenson both said it’s too early to draw firm conclusions from the pilot program. In the first year, participating schools spent most of their time figuring out how to implement the requirements, and school statistics didn’t change much.
“We have one year of data,” Parsons said. “We’re halfway through the second year. Maybe we’ll be ready next year. Anything we find that really works, the district would want to do … districtwide. I think that what we’re doing is good for all kids.”
To learn more …
For more information about Jeffco Public Schools’ strategic compensation pilot program, visit www.jeffcostrategiccompensation.org.