It's been a year since Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools implemented Project Advance, a new model which is designed to add supplemental pay to teachers' income based on professional development.
The skills-based compensation system includes four levels. Each level has a variety of courses to complete and each course is about eight to 10 hours long. One level can take about three to five years to complete, said Philip Holmes, executive director of professional learning and talent development for CHCCS.
Teachers early in their careers begin at the first stage and progress onward where they could earn up to $5,000 in addition to their state paycheck and 16 percent supplemental pay by the district, CHCCS spokesperson Jeff Nash said. Veteran teachers receive some credit for their years on the job.
“It’s not just taking classes, you have to show that what you’ve learned in the class you can implement,” Nash said. “It’s really about becoming a master teacher.”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools is one of six school systems North Carolina is funding for the new model to find an alternative method for teacher pay. Currently, teachers are paid based on a state schedule.
Some districts across the country base teacher pay off of student performance, but Holmes disagrees with that model.
“That system has a fatal flaw,” Holmes said. “I’m actually assuming that the teacher who taught you in high school knows how to get better test scores and they’ve just been choosing not to do it because I haven’t been paying them enough.”
Project Advance provides a wider net of opportunity, said Courtney Sears, a second grade teacher at Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill.
“It’s a philosophical difference,” Sears said. “When we see teachers getting paid for higher test scores, those programs tend to only be offered to certain groups of teachers on a year by year basis. Project Advance is open to all teachers in our district. The idea of Project Advance is that it trusts teachers to continuously improve their craft and that spans across a person’s career.”
Holmes, who is leading Project Advance, said there needs to be a kind of professional development for teachers to improve their skills as teachers or their knowledge of teaching.
“I don’t know any teacher who wakes up in the morning knowing how to reach every child and how to get every single kid to grow and just chooses not to do it because they’re not getting paid enough,” Holmes said.
Nash said a student performance based model would not work for the district, but there are some problems with the merit based system of teacher pay as well.
“A 25-year teacher is going to have a higher pay scale than a three-year teacher,” Nash said. “But research doesn’t support that the 25-year teacher teaches better, they just have survived it longer. We don’t want people who just survive, we want people to continue their growing and learning.”
Sears said she took one of the courses as part of Project Advance. She said the experience made her proud of all the teachers in her district.
“I’ve been really pleased with the content of the courses,” Sears said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to facilitate a course and I found that to be really exciting because I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness that the teachers were putting into their course work."
Sears is also part of the Project Advance implementation team. Since launching a year ago, she said some teachers are wary of doing more hours of professional development than before.
“I think that once we experience Project Advance fully implemented, we’ll see that there is a shift from a one size fits all professional development to a model where teachers are consistently having the option to choose the topics that they want to invest their time into and how they want to do it,” she said.
The first year of implementation was a rollercoaster, Holmes said.
“Whenever you’re implementing something new and you’re building new systems, there’s always things to learn and there’s always things to improve,” he said.
Despite not knowing the exact outcomes because of how new and different the program is from other models in the state, Holmes said he remains optimistic on the effect Project Advance will have.
“When we look at success what we want to see is teachers increasing their skills so that the outcomes and the experience are better for their students,” Holmes said. “One of the things we know is that high quality professional development helps teachers improve which improves the experience for students."
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