Feds give DPS pay plan a push
By Nancy Mitchell
Denver's innovative merit pay plan for teachers received a $22 million boost Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Education, a funding shot in the arm that will allow its expansion to school principals.
"So it's an adequate sum?" Patricia Chlouber, regional representative for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, teased Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet in presenting the check.
"Yeah," said a slightly stunned Bennet. "Thank you, thank you . . . We appreciate it more than you can know."
The five-year federal grant, which totals exactly $22,674,393, will be used to support and expand ProComp, the first widescale plan in the nation to pay teachers based on factors such as improving student achievement and working in high-poverty schools.
ProComp, which Denver voters agreed in November 2005 to fund with a $25 million annual tax hike, has drawn national attention as a potential model to emulate. Wednesday's announcement signals the support of federal officials for the idea.
"I commit to you, we will make you proud," Bennet told Chlouber. "We won't let you down."
Bringing principals under the plan means they also would be rewarded for choosing to work in the city's most challenging schools.
Kristin Waters, principal at Bruce Randolph School in north Denver, called the addition of principals "a natural extension" of the teacher pay plan.
"We work as a team developing our goals and setting expectations for student achievement," she said of her teachers, who piloted ProComp schoolwide last year. "If they're looking for volunteers, I'd be very comfortable with that."
A survey last spring of DPS principals and assistant principals - who also would be eligible for participation - found 68 percent were either "in favor or strongly in favor" of a pay plan similar to ProComp.
Brad Jupp, who helped create ProComp as a union leader and who now serves as Bennet's senior academic adviser, said principals could join the system as early as fall 2007.
Some pieces of ProComp are expected to be similar for teachers and principals. A school designated as "hard-to-serve" likely would be the same for both. More than 30 Denver schools fit that definition based on factors such as the percentage of students receiving federal lunch aid, an indicator of poverty.
Teachers who choose to work in such schools receive annual bonuses of $1,026. Principals who make similar choices could receive annual bonuses of $5,000, according to the DPS application for the federal grant, which was submitted in July.
Details of the principals' plan, however, still must be worked out. The district is partnering with New Leaders for New Schools, which operates training programs for urban principals across the country, in putting it together.
A total of 66 school districts applied for the new federal grant, known as the Teacher Incentive Fund, which seeks to create and implement performance-based teacher and principal pay in disadvantaged schools.
Of those, 16 districts were named recipients, sharing $42 million. That means DPS is receiving more than half of this year's total distribution of dollars.
"It is considered a radical idea," Bennet said of ProComp. "It is certainly a transformational idea."
Jupp called tying a district's biggest expense - teacher salaries - to its most desired result of higher student achievement a "simple policy premise . . . I cannot comprehend why other school districts haven't figured it out before us."
But he also noted it took six years to work out the pay plan, which incorporates nine elements such as setting student achievement goals and documenting professional growth.
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