Teachers in Gainesville and Hall County could be rewarded in the future for taking on additional roles, and for their students’ achievement.
Gainesville City School Board is beginning to discuss a new way of compensating teachers who take on extra responsibilities.
Hall County also is developing a system for awarding bonuses to the most effective teachers.
School districts often elect to pay teachers a local supplement, additional money added to their base salary determined by the state, based on years of experience and advanced degrees.
"School districts like to do that, and have needed to do that to attract the highest quality teachers," Gainesville City Schools superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "That gives them an avenue to have more competitive salaries."
The Gainesville board is hoping to hear from teachers on whether a new model — strategic compensation — would be a good fit for them.
Strategic compensation would differ from the percentage-based local supplement currently used by the district. Under the plan, teachers could be rewarded for performing additional duties and responsibilities that require extra hours.
Many school districts in the nation use a strategic compensation model based on student achievement and test scores. Yet neither Gainesville nor Hall County is considering that as an option.
"Some of the models that I hear bantered around the country that have to do with absolute test scores, I think have some real potential to be damaging and be less than genuine," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Hall County schools pay teachers a local supplement based on a percentage of their state base pay.
Schofield said his district is proposing a reward for "teacher of promise." The district created a proposal detailing how it would award "effectiveness bonuses" to teachers and building-level administrators in all grades using Race to the Top merit pay allocations.
Teachers would apply for the bonus by preparing a portfolio of evidence showing their effectiveness.
After a review of applications, those selected would choose from a menu of additional responsibilities, including an increased student class load, providing instruction through webcasting or coaching less effective teachers.
Schofield said the idea of merit-based pay has never gained much traction because it’s difficult to quantify.
"What you need to be looking at is growth in students, not absolute test scores. There are an awful lot of shortcomings with test scores," Schofield said. "Taking a look at where a child comes in and where they leave at a school year, and looking at this over multiple years, you can start to make some pretty reliable predictions about what teachers are able to move children forward."
Schofield said the bonuses are only in "preliminary thoughts" right now. The district will take the next 18 months to develop the merit compensation system.
Dyer said a few school systems in Georgia are studying whether strategic compensation would work in practice.
"The legislature is very interested in us doing this," Dyer said. "Not just Gainesville city, but they’re looking for a school system to step up and say ‘Hey, you know we can’t keep on with this automatic thing. We’ve got to think of another way to do things.’"
The strategic compensation model could favor teachers and school leaders who sponsor extracurricular clubs or take on administrative duties.
"There may be a teacher fresh out of college who just does a bang-up job and the kids are doing great," Gainesville school board member Delores Diaz said. "Then there may be an old teacher who’s been around for a while and just sort of shows up. We want to make sure we’re getting the best and brightest and they can get results with their students."
Diaz said one interesting factor she’s learned since researching the model is that teachers with advanced degrees do not always turn out successful students.
"Advanced degrees don’t correlate with more student achievement, unless their degree is in their student content area," Diaz said. "So if someone gets a degree in ESL (English as a Second Language) but yet doesn’t teach any of that, it doesn’t translate into the teaching. That makes sense but it’s not something you think about."
The Gainesville model could be compared to an athletic supplement already in place statewide for coaches, who are paid both a local supplement and an athletic supplement on top of their base pay.
Gainesville High School Athletic Director Wayne Vickery said the system has had a compensation incentive for many years and it has worked well for teachers who work longer hours coaching teams.
Coaching a high school sports team is not unlike having another part-time job, he said. Coaches often end up working an additional 20 to 30 hours a week.
"If you have an athletic background, I think there are plenty of opportunities there for someone who wants to coach an extracurricular activity like a tennis or a track team," Vickery said.
One concern with the strategic compensation model would be whether there were enough additional duties available for every teacher to benefit.
"I think that a lot of teachers do take on a lot of responsibilities," said Haynes Kaufman, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Gainesville Middle School. "For the teachers who do not yet have children or who have older children, it would be a wonderful opportunity for them."
But Kaufman wonders how the model would affect teachers like herself who have small children at home and can’t work additional hours because of family obligations.
"This is just not the season of my life that I’m able to participate," Kaufman said. "I think financial compensation for those who are able is great. But I would not like to see my pay to be cut in any way since I do have young children at home."
Macey Miller, a first-year sixth-grade teacher at Gainesville Middle School, said she trusts the board to fully research the model before making a decision.
"I think it could be a good and bad thing," Miller said. "If it’s done the right way it could push teachers to get more involved with their students."
Dyer believes taking at least a year to study the compensation model would provide enough time to learn its benefits and drawbacks. A study group likely would consist of a few teachers from each school to provide insights.
Diaz said the board will continue to research the method and speak with teachers before making any decisions.
"It won’t be an easy thing to deal with because there are a lot of emotions involved, obviously when people are dealing with their salaries," Diaz said. "Our goal is to have the best teachers we could possibly get. I think we already do. But we want to reward them beyond years of experience and degrees."