Syracuse, N.Y., Schools Join Opportunity Culture® Initiative

by | March 7, 2014

Four of the highest-need schools in the Syracuse City School District, New York’s fifth-largest district, are using teacher-led teams to design new staffing models for their struggling schools to use in fall 2014. These school models extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget.

The schools join the national Opportunity Culture® initiative, which includes schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Metro Nashville, and additional districts to be announced soon. School design teams will adapt and implement Opportunity Culture® models, created by Public Impact®, that use job redesign and age- and child-appropriate technology to reach more students with excellence. Education First, which has extensive experience facilitating collaborative change in district schools, is assisting the schools in making the transition to the new models.

Syracuse wants to become the most improved urban district in America. More than three-quarters of Syracuse students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, in a city where more than 44 percent of children under 18 live in poverty. System leaders know great teachers are the key to changing the odds for these students, and paying them more and letting them lead while teaching is essential to attract and keep them in Syracuse.

“Joining with our teachers to make these changes is exciting,” said Superintendent Sharon Contreras. “We’ve all seen smart new initiatives come and go with grants. It’s time to create more teacher leadership opportunities and pay teachers more for the long haul.”

Public Impact®’s work in Syracuse grows out of its Opportunity Culture® initiative, launched in 2011. In its quest to reach all students with excellent teachers by 2025, the Public Impact® team published school model summaries and detailed models that use job redesign and technology to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget—without forcing class-size increases. Most of the models add significant time for teaching teams to collaborate, plan, and improve during school hours and make paid career paths possible for all teachers, not just the best.

Schools may find these higher-paying models especially effective for recruiting and retaining excellent teachers and teams in hard-to-staff schools and positions, such as STEM teaching.

“These models respect teachers and help them deliver for kids. We’re just setting the stage for great teachers to lead their schools toward excellence,” Bryan Hassel said. “Teachers choose the school models they think will work best for their schools, and can work with principals to adjust the models as teachers work with them.”

The Syracuse district received a “Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness” grant from the New York State Education Department to help with implementation and transition costs of the Opportunity Culture® models. The district will not need grants to continue the pay supplements for teachers.

Each pilot school has created its own school design team, led by teachers and some school administrators, to select and adapt the Opportunity Culture® job models to fit each school’s needs, or to create their own models. Each school’s design will meet a set of guiding principles established by the district, based on Public Impact®’s Opportunity Culture® Principles.

Education First will guide the Syracuse school teams using materials on The firm has broad experience in school reforms focused on great teaching, as well as in engaging educators in the changes that impact them, and has contributed to design process guidance the district will use.

“We’re looking forward to working with teachers and other leaders in Syracuse to see how teachers lead the way in making their schools better for everyone—students and teachers both,” said John Luczak, principal at Education First.

See the full press release here.

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