Eagle County teacher pay plan winning fans | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County teacher pay plan winning fans

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Just a few short years ago, TAP ” the Teacher Advancement Program ” was the equivalent of a four-letter word for many teachers in Eagle County.

The program, started in 2002, tied teacher pay to formal evaluations and student performances on standardized tests. Though well intentioned, the program proved to be a burden for many teachers, who argued there had to be a more consistent and fairer method to determine pay.

In the past two years the program has been overhauled, and it seems most teachers and administrators in the district are happy with how it has evolved.

“It’s not called TAP anymore, and we intentionally don’t put a label on it,” said Jason Glass, director of Human Resources for the Eagle County School District, noting the name changed because of how much the pay system has evolved, and also because of the stigma that surrounded TAP.

“The new administration saw there were a lot of positive things about the system, and performance pay was just a lightning rod for criticism,” Glass said. “People were really upset about it, but instead of throwing out the whole system, we decided to work on the piece that had everyone upset.”

Mary Ann Stavney, a teacher at Eagle Valley High and former school board member, said she felt the program has evolved nicely over the last couple years.

“I’ve really been pleased with what’s happened, because we learned what we could from the old program,” she said. “Now we’ve really shed it and are doing our own thing, and regardless of how painful the process was, it’s been beneficial for our schools.”

Under the old system, teachers could add up to $2,600 to their salary. The new system eliminated the dollar figure and replaced it with a percentage so teachers could receive up to 8 percent of their contract salary as performance pay.

Standardized test scores determine 4 percent of the potential bonus, with the other four percent based on teacher evaluations.

Teacher retention is at the heart of the current pay program, and so far, things seem to be working out. Earlier this year, district officials said teacher resignations had dropped by more than 50 percent over the previous year, in which 95 teachers resigned ” or about 20 percent of the entire teaching staff.

“I can’t speak to how the majority of teachers think, but I think overall morale has improved because there’s a sense that the changes that were made were the right ones,” Stavney said. “On some level, I think pay-for-performance has improved morale, but maybe more importantly, teachers now feel listened to and there’s less of a climate of fear if someone speaks out or disagrees.”

Dave Russell, technology coordinator at Eagle Valley High School, agreed that the new system is more responsive to teacher needs.

“The way it’s evolved over the last few years has really shown a lot of promise,” he said. “They’ve shown that the system can be flexible and it can look different for different kinds of teachers. I know a lot of other districts have been watching us to see how it’s worked, and even though it seemed inflexible in the past, it’s getting to where it needs to be.”

Aside from the pay-for-performance piece of the program, Shiloy Sanders, a master teacher at Avon Elementary, said professional development has also improved.

“They started out having 120 minutes of professional development each week, and now it’s down to about 70 minutes, which is an improvement because otherwise it’s just too much time away from the classroom,” she said. “And the way the time was spent has changed as well, because it used to be a black and white, set agenda, and now it’s structured around student achievement, so it better meets the needs of kids.”

At Red Canyon High School, third-year teacher Christina Gosselin said the current system meant she received a higher salary than she would have in other districts, so she’s happy the district didn’t completely scrap the TAP program.

“I love it, and I’d be sad to see it go. It’s worked really well with our school, and because I’m the only science teacher here, it gives me a chance to meet with other people and get new ideas.”

Melisa Rewold-Thuon, principal of Avon Elementary, wrote via e-mail that she felt the best components of the original TAP program have been successfully adapted to meet the needs of Eagle County schools. She wrote that while the pay-for-performance program was good for “weeding out” certain teachers, the program still has room for improvement.

“Districts around the country are struggling with devising good pay-for-performance systems, and as of yet, no one has a system that is perfect,” she wrote.

So with this smattering of positive reviews, Glass feels the district is on the right track, though he acknowledges it is an ongoing process.

“We’ve done a lot of good things with performance pay this year, which is good because it lets the district focus back on teaching and kids instead of pay,” he said. “Our system isn’t perfect, and we’re still learning, but the important thing is that we’re not turning our back to questions or criticisms ” we’re evaluating everything on an ongoing basis going forward.”

nrodriguez@vaildaily.com


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