Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools officials sent a memo to staff Wednesday announcing the district will partially delay the roll-out of a new model for teacher pay that rewards professional development instead of longevity.
Administrators now say the district needs to focus on increasing the local supplement paid to teachers in order to stay competitive with Wake County, which recently approved pay raises for its educators.
The Project ADVANCE compensation plan was slated to launch in August for all teachers. It does away with bonuses for longevity, and instead rewards teachers who reach professional development milestones.
Rydell Harrison is the district’s executive director of professional learning and the lead architect of Project ADVANCE. He wrote that he and Superintendent Tom Forcella decided to change the timeline after touring schools throughout the district:
“During our visits, staff raised concerns about the salary implications of ADVANCE and our ability to remain competitive in light of supplement changes in surrounding districts,” he wrote. “Those concerns were shared with the Implementation Team and district leaders, and we recognized that base compensation should be addressed before awarding ADVANCE salary incentives.”
Harrison says the superintendent’s recommended budget will include an additional $1.9 million to increase the local supplement the district pays on top of the state’s base salary, which ranges from $38,500 for new teachers to $55,000 for those with 30 years of experience.
In the two-phase roll-out, the district will focus on raising salaries to improve teacher retention in 2016, then fully shift to an achievement-based pay plan in 2017.
Starting this fall, only new teachers and support staff will be automatically enrolled in the training components of Project ADVANCE. Current teachers will have a one-year option to opt in to training before the program is fully implemented in 2017.
But there’s a financial incentive for early adapters. New and mid-career teachers who opt in for 2016 will see their local supplement increase to 16 percent of their base pay, up from 12 percent. Those who wait would see their supplement pay frozen for a year at 2015 levels ranging from 12 to 15 percent.
The additional pay reflects Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s effort to stay competitive with Wake County Schools, where beginning teachers earn a local supplement worth 17.75 percent of their base pay.
In the first year of the Project ADVANCE roll-out, the CHCCS system won’t be awarding the achievement bonuses that are the program’s hallmark. Instead, the district will wait to fully enact Project ADVANCE for all teachers in 2017.
Once it’s in place, teachers will be expected to advance through four achievement levels, each with requirements for additional training, skill development and evaluation. The levels are tied to salary increases ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, and there’s opportunity to earn more money by taking on leadership roles.
The partial delay is similar to what Sally Merryman, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, has been asking for since last year. She’s come before the school board regularly in recent months to voice teachers’ concerns about the new plan.
“The truth of the matter is that it is still nebulous and we’re uncomfortable with the uncertainty of everything: the supplement scale, the changes in the way professional learning is going to occur,” Merryman said in December. “We’re unwilling to embrace a process that has not been vetted sufficiently, and we want to believe the Project ADVANCE team will do right by us, but the lack of detail is troubling.”
Merryman told the school board teachers are already overwhelmed by a slew of learning initiatives and increasing levels of paperwork. She’s worried the professional training component of Project ADVANCE will simply pile more on their already full plates.
Speaking at the district’s planning retreat, Harrison said he understands that fear. “Part of the reason there’s so much on their plate is that the district, and I would say as a profession, for a long time we’ve just been running in a million different directions, and it really creates this kind of schizophrenic approach to student growth and district improvement.”
He says Project ADVANCE will streamline teacher training.
“It’s really focused,” says Harrison. “It’s also moving us away from sit-and-get, to a competency-based approach where teachers and support staff are learning concepts and ideas that they can then turn around and apply.
So I don’t think it’s going to end up being more work. I think it’s going to be a lot more focused work, with a real focus on respecting teachers’ time and the talents that they bring to the table.”
There’s also uncertainty about how Project ADVANCE will incorporate the district’s goals to improve racial equity.
School administrators are working on a plan to close achievement gaps for black and Latino students, as well as to address issues of implicit bias among educators.
At the same time, a coalition of community members is pressing administrators to adopt a racially-conscious curriculum and change what they see as a ‘culture of inequity’ that harms minority students.
Harrison says the new system of teacher training will help address those concerns: “Through Project ADVANCE, teachers will engage in ongoing equity-focused professional learning to develop culturally responsive instructional strategies and explore how implicit bias can negatively impact student outcomes. Teachers will also work collaboratively with their colleagues to refine practices that meet the needs of diverse learners.”
But Dianne Jackson, president of the N.C. Federation of Teachers, says she doubts such training would do enough to change the culture of the school district.
“Equity is such a complex piece,” she said. “It has to be centered around instruction, around what you’re doing to move your fragile students. There’s a whole lot of parts in the implementation plan that have yet to be decided, and that’s where a lot of this skepticism comes from.”
The superintendent will present his proposed budget to the school board March 3.