Midtown Raleigh News

Wake County to provide millions of dollars to support 12 elementary schools

Walnut Creek Elementary School students work in the technology classroom earlier this month.
Walnut Creek Elementary School students work in the technology classroom earlier this month. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Hundreds of Wake County elementary school teachers will get the chance to earn a big pay raise if they commit to stay at their high-poverty schools for the next three years.

Wake school administrators unveiled last week the details of a new program to support 12 high-needs elementary schools with extra resources such as more pay for teachers and additional professional development. But in return, the schools will surrender some of their autonomy in what they teach and teachers will be expected to stay there through at least the 2017-18 school year.

The program is starting as Wake, which has been known nationally for its goal of keeping demographic balance among students attending each school, is moving away from using student assignment as the primary way to raise achievement at lower-performing schools.

High-poverty schools typically have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers compared with schools that have more affluent student populations. At least half of the students in each of the 12 schools in the program receive federally subsidized lunches.

“Many of the principals almost exclusively reported that there were concerns with staffing and turnover,” Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance, told the school board last week.

Moore said that after a year or two of training in how to meet the specific needs of the students in their schools, some teachers are leaving to work elsewhere.

More money, more months

As a recruitment incentive, Moore said teachers at the dozen schools will be offered an 11-month contract, costing the system an additional $2.35 million annually. Most Wake teachers work on 10-month contracts. The extra month would be worth $3,700 to $7,200, depending on the teacher’s level of experience and credentials.

The extra month would cover time for the teachers to receive additional professional development.

In return for the 11-month contract, staff would be asked to provide a three-year commitment to the school. Any early transfers out by teachers would require approval by a new area superintendent whose position would be created to oversee the program.

Administrators said details such as the process for staffing the schools and any consequences for leaving early haven’t been completed.

Noting how stressful it is to work in challenging schools, school board member Jim Martin said administrators should consider letting teachers rotate in and out after their three-year commitment so they can get a “breather.”

“This is not a life term,” Superintendent Jim Merrill agreed, saying staff will look at Martin’s suggestions.

The 12 schools were picked after being ranked on factors such as test scores, the experience levels of their teachers and principals, and demographics of the school population.

The schools will operate under a model called “managed performance empowerment” in which higher-performing schools receive more flexibility in their operations than lower-performing schools. The district will require the schools to have set times for literacy, math and science instruction and use specific programs that are considered to be academically effective.

“We define what are the things that you must do – that must be part of your work in the school – and then what are the things where there is flexibility in how you make decisions for the students and your school,” Moore said.

Future cost in millions

The reduction in autonomy will be offset by the extra resources. Aside from the higher teacher pay, the schools will get new technology and extra positions such as nurses, counselors, social workers and a full-time instructional resource teacher to help train teachers.

Wake would also agree not to use the 12 schools as overflow schools for other high-needs schools in the student assignment process.

Wake may also change three three year-round schools in the program to a traditional calendar to provide a consistent schedule among all 12 schools.

It won’t be cheap to implement the new program. Wake has $1 million set aside to fund the program for the rest of the school year. But millions will be needed to keep the program running in future years, especially as Wake looks to expand it into middle schools and high schools.

“It takes significant funding, and there are other schools that need this support – and funding is finite,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said.

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