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Pilot program rewards teachers' successes


Garthia Elena Burnett



Do incentives like increased pay make for more effective teachers? 


That''s the question the state of Mississippi wants to answer by 2015. And Columbus Municipal School District is one of eight districts in the state chosen to pilot a teacher-incentives program. 


This year is a planning stage, but by next year, Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School and Franklin Elementary Medical Sciences and Wellness Magnet School will be fully entrenched in an incentives program, which offers teachers bonuses and other perks for increasing student achievement. 


"The goal is to increase effectiveness by performance-based compensation systems," Assistant Superintendent Martha Liddell explained to school board members, Monday night. 


The project has five primary goals -- to create a teacher and principal evaluation system, establish an appropriate data system, establish professional development activities, create a performance-based compensation system and create career ladders for teachers.  


Career ladders offer teachers an opportunity for additional compensation based on years of experience, professional development and performance. 


Another goal is to increase the number of effective teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas, such as special education, math, science and foreign languages. 


"The ultimate goal is to increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness," explained Daphne Buckley, Mississippi Department of Education''s deputy state superintendent for quality and professional schools. 


Over the course of the pilot program, districts will fund an increasing portion of teacher incentives each year. While districts are not required to maintain pay incentives after the five-year period, they are encouraged to do so if the program is effective. 


"We''re in a safe place, but we''re in a productive place because we get to be decision makers," Liddell said. 


The state is trying to find an effective way to gauge the educator performance, Columbus schools Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips explained. 


"In a nutshell, what the state is trying to do ... is determine what data set they''re going to use to evaluate teachers," he said. 


The state currently has a system to decide whether or not teachers are highly qualified. Using this pilot program, MDE hopes to develop a system to determine whether or not they are highly effective. 


"We''re excited about the opportunity look at teacher effectiveness. We believe that the teacher is the key," Buckley said. 


It''s an opportunity for the state to test a performance-based compensation model without footing the bill in its entirety. 


"As you know, it can be expensive," Liddell told the school board. 


No solid figures were offered on how much compensation high-performing teachers could expect. But it will be enough of a bonus to provoke change, Liddell said. 


Board Secretary Tommy Prude is excited about the incentives portion of the program. 


"The good part about it is there is incentive for work well done," said board member Tommy Prude. 


Another plus: Districts will be able to review educator performance based on qualitative measures, as well as quantitative. Translation: Teachers can be evaluated on their teaching methods, innovation, relationship with students and parents and other areas important to the district, not just test scores. 


The pilot is part of a $10.8 million New Directions Grant awarded to the state Department of Education by the U.S. Department of Education. Other districts receiving grant funds are Calhoun County, Jackson Public Schools, Grenada schools, Jones County, George County, Simpson County and Wayne County. The amount disbursed to each district will be determined by teacher incentives and other programs implemented.




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