This week the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new plan to help recruit the best teachers to some of the state's lowest-performing schools. The latest incentive comes in the form cash bonuses between $5,000 and $7,000 to attract and retain talented instructors at the worst schools.
The announcement raised a slew of questions from WBIR Facebook users about how the program will work, where the money comes from, and which schools will qualify for the bonus cash.
The program benefits Tennessee's "priority schools" that rank in the bottom five percent in the state. Only one school in our area, Sarah Moore Greene Elementary in Knoxville, is eligible for the new bonuses.
There are a total of 83 priority schools in Tennessee, all of which are concentrated in state's metropolitan areas. In addition to Sarah Moore Greene (SMG) in Knoxville, there are six priority schools in Chattanooga, six in the Nashville area, and one in Hardeman County east of Memphis. A whopping 69 of the 83 worst-rated schools in the state are located in Memphis.
Knox County Schools superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said the bonuses will only go to the best teachers with a proven record of success.
"If you are a teacher that has scored a level five on your performance evaluation, which is the most highly effective teachers that we have," said McIntyre. "That performance evaluation is not based entirely on test scores. Student performance is definitely part of it, but teachers are also evaluated based on in-class observations, evaluations from superiors, and other criteria."
The Tennessee Department of Education is funding the new statewide bonus program with federal dollars. McIntyre said the bonuses attract and retain talented teachers.
"The way the mechanics of the program works is a new level-5 teacher that is hired by the school can get up to $7,000," said McIntyre. "They would get $2,000 as they take the position and have the potential to earn another $5,000 if they continue at that level of instructional excellence for the coming school year. The teacher would have to receive an evaluation of either level-4 or level-5 to meet that requirement to receive the payment at the end of the year."
As for the great teachers already at priority schools, the program also provides bonuses for them to stay put and keep up the good work.
"They'd be eligible for a retention bonus of $5,000. This is a terrific tool for us to have available to really be able to retain and recruit some top talent," said McIntyre.
This week Sarah Moore Greene Elementary announced it will go through a reconstitution process that requires all of its teachers to reapply for their jobs. McIntyre said there are already some great level-5 teachers at SMG that will qualify for the retention bonuses.
"Based on the previous year we had a few teachers that were at that level. The thing with Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School is we have some great teachers there and we're going to invite some teachers to come back and continue to provide the great instruction that they've provided there," said McIntyre.
"This is really crunch time for Sarah Moore Greene and all those other schools," said Mike Edwards, CEO of the Knoxville Chamber and member of the state school board. "These are considered to be hard-to-staff schools, particularly with teachers that perform extremely high. Students perform better when they have better teachers. As for whether these bonuses will help, time will tell. The outcomes in those students' performances are the tell tale sign as to if things are happening or not."
McIntyre said to his knowledge the state has placed no limit on how many teachers can be given bonuses by a single school.