Title I incentives made a priority

District 51 School Board members adopted a resolution this week prioritizing incentives for quality teachers who stay at Title I schools.

But the question remains: Will the district ever find money to fund those incentives?

The resolution states the board will make it a “top priority…to design meaningful incentives such as salary enhancements for retention at Title I schools” if proper funding becomes available.

District 51 Chief Operations Officer Phil Onofrio said they plan to apply for a federal grant this year that would help pay for a new compensation system in 2015-16. The system will reward teachers at all schools for being rated highly effective, taking classes pertinent to their teaching skills, and other accomplishments.

The grant would impact all employees, but could be used to offer additional incentives for Title I employees, according to Lesley Rose, executive director of academic achievement for District 51 elementary schools. The incentives could come in the form of a monetary bonus or other perks.

Rose said at a school board meeting Tuesday that an informal survey of 64 Title I teachers found that the most popular incentive would be a $1,500 annual bonus for returning to a Title I school. Having outstanding principals at Title I schools would be the second-most popular option, followed by extra professional development, increased planning time, and new classroom materials.

School Board member Ann Tisue said she pushed for the resolution because she is worried about teachers leaving after they gain some experience at Title I schools, instead of sticking around to share their experience with low-income students.

As the Daily Sentinel reported earlier this month, attracting experienced teachers to Title I schools or keeping teachers at those schools for multiple years after they gain job experience is a struggle. The district has 10 Title I elementary schools, named after the category of federal funding they get for academic supports because more than half of students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Nearly a quarter of teaching staffs at those 10 schools turned over last year, compared to a turnover rate of 18 percent for the district’s 14 non-Title I elementary schools.

While only about a third of teachers who left Title I schools after 2012-13 were in their first three years of teaching in District 51, 88 percent of the teachers who replaced them last fall had less than three years of teaching experience in the district.

Tisue said she’s not sure if or when money will come through for incentives but she wanted the board to show it’s support for the concept of incentives.

“I want to see (Title I kids) have the same shot as anybody else,” Tisue said.

Board member Jeff Leany said a bonus could help teachers who get “burned out” stay motivated in a Title I school.

“At least we give these people an incentive to stick it out,” he said.

Board President Greg Mikolai said he worried the resolution might unduly get some teachers’ hopes up, but he voted for it after it was amended to remove a line that said the board would specifically prioritize a $1,500 stay-on bonus for Title I teachers. Mikolai added any incentives that may materialize should take teacher effectiveness into account. Board member Tom Parrish added, if possible, he would like to see incentives impact middle and high schools where Title I elementary students matriculate.

The resolution passed 4-0. Board Vice President John Williams was absent.


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