Outgoing Superintendent Tom Forcella said the new model for teacher pay that he helped create will be subject to an annual review process that will include teachers, administrators and potentially school board members.
Project ADVANCE, a compensation plan that rewards professional development instead of longevity, has received mixed responses from district teachers since it was announced.
Specifically, some current staff members have feared that they wouldn’t make as much money under the new system as the old system.
Forcella said his staff has continued to look for “what we can do to make that transition for current staff more smooth and more fair.”
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Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the district has already tried to include teachers in the process as much as possible, including from the very beginning in helping to create the guidelines for hiring a consultant.
Once an initial plan was established, LoFrese said the district staff continued to make a number of changes to the original plan in response to feedback from teachers. This included creating a two-year grandfathering process, increasing the grandfathering time period to five years and adding additional teacher representatives to the plan’s implantation plan and as-yet-to-be-created appeals committee.
“Project ADVANCE is a big change and we owe it to our teachers, we owe it to our students and we owe it to all of our staff to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be,” LoFrese said.
After hearing more feedback, LoFrese said it made sense to create an annual review process for the compensation plan.
As Forcella noted, the success of the plan hinges on teacher buy-in.
“The purpose would be to annually review ADVANCE and make recommendations for improvements or changes where necessary,” said LoFrese.
Administrators have said that the district needs to focus on increasing the local supplement paid to teachers in order to stay competitive with Wake County, which already approved pay raises for its educators.
Project ADVANCE does away with bonuses for longevity and instead rewards teachers who reach professional development milestones.
School board member Andrew Davidson alluded to the ongoing competition between the two counties to attract the best educators during Thursday night’s school board meeting.
Davidson asked if the district’s recruitment office had received mostly positive or negative responses to Project ADVANCE from potential new hires.
LoFrese said the response from applicants has largely been “very positive.”
“They’re excited about it. It’s an opportunity for people to move more quickly, that they don’t have to wait 25 years if they’re putting forth the effort and doing the work,” he said. “They can get to the top of the salary schedule much more quickly.”
Davidson said Wake County has actually been using news of Project ADVANCE as a way to persuade recruits to pick them.
“One of the counters that Wake County had was, ‘You can go to Chapel Hill and you can go through all this rigmarole and jump through all these hoops or you can come to Wake County and we’ll just go ahead and pay the money up front,” Davidson said.
Davidson said the district needs to polish its elevator speech so recruits understand very quickly that the new program helps them earn more money faster.
Forcella said Project ADVANCE is a way to not only participate in professional development but also to ensure that it’s being implemented in the classrooms.
“But above and beyond that, we would really like to see as this moves forward the kind of innovation that happens when teams of teachers work together on action research,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, school board Chair James Barrett said he was grateful that the district has talked with multiple stakeholders during the planning process, specifically singling out veteran teachers and noting that retention is just as important as recruitment.
One teacher who doesn’t plan to stay at the district next year, however – at least in part because of the proposed Project ADVANCE – is Andrea Wuerth. The East Chapel Hill High School German language teacher, who attended Thursday’s board meeting, is looking for a job in a nearby district.
She said she’s been frustrated because she doesn’t feel the current administration has listened to all of the concerns that teachers have about Project Advance. She also said the program is “offensive” to some because teachers in the district “have always been very very committed to professional development.”
“The tone that’s coming is that we need to somehow get on board and change somehow,” she said. “This particular administration came in with the idea that, ‘It’s broke, and we need to fix it.’ And it wasn’t broke.”
Wuerth, who has been in the district for five years, said the district should also be focusing more on retention rather than recruitment.
“We have excellent teachers who have experience and who are committed to what they’re doing,” she said. “And they feel like they’re not being taken seriously.”
Wuerth said that while her next position is “TBA,” she wanted to make it clear that she’s not looking in Wake County, a recruitment concern mentioned earlier in the board meeting.
“I’m very interested in Durham as well,” she said. “Simply because, it’s not about the money only. It’s about respect for teaching and autonomy for teachers and flexibility.”