Our TLP technical assistance (TA) team recently interviewed Bethanie Watlington, TIF project director for Cross County School District (CCSD), to learn more about the partnership that CCSD has established with a local university to establish a high-need subject-area teacher pipeline.
What do you think are the most unique or innovative aspects of your grant project?
The most innovative aspects of CCSD's grant project are signing bonuses, retention bonuses, and paid internships. To encourage our current teachers to stay, the school offers a retention bonus on top of their earned performance pay. However, the unique feature of this grant allows us to offer paid internships to prospective teachers.
CCSD will pay stipends for these candidates during the semester of their internship. If these educators are deemed effective and hired by the school district, they will receive an initial signing bonus in their first year; the interns will also be eligible for retention bonuses after their first year as a contracted teacher. We hope that this fills our hard-to-staff areas with effective teachers by setting us apart from the surrounding schools in larger cities.
Can you also describe briefly your project design? Tell us how it fits your specific context and why this design is right for you.
CCSD uses the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET)'s TAP (The System for Teacher and Student Advancement) system. Through TAP, teachers are eligible for performance-based compensation, leadership role opportunities, instructionally focused accountability, and ongoing professional growth. This program takes teacher support to a whole new level by allowing master and mentor teachers the opportunity to observe and develop feedback tailored specifically to the support areas in which teachers often struggle in their classrooms. Teachers can then take that feedback and incorporate it in future lessons in order to raise student achievement and evaluation scores.
The most innovative aspects of our TIF 5 grant project are signing bonuses, retention bonuses, and paid internships. We have partnered with Arkansas Tech University (ATU) to place up to two highly skilled high-need subject-area candidates in our schools each year to meet their student teaching requirement.
Through the TAP system, teachers can receive differentiated levels of bonuses every year based on effectiveness and student growth. They are also encouraged to take on leadership roles as a master or mentor teacher, which hold other educators accountable, and conduct job-embedded professional development by teaching lessons in weekly "cluster groups." The TAP system identifies teachers' strengths while providing instruction for areas of opportunity. CCSD takes pride in the level of teacher support NIET's TAP system offers their educators; it provides each teacher individualized goals and adequate follow-up to help them succeed as an educator.
Although it has not been long since the project started, what has surprised you the most so far?
In our implementation of the grant, the aspect that has surprised me the most thus far is our partnership with Arkansas Tech University (ATU). ATU has an amazing education department and we were overwhelmingly impressed at the quality and professionalism of the student teachers we interviewed for our first round of internships. ATU has been extremely helpful during this process and will continue to stay involved in the development and growth of our district through the TIF 5 grant.