How 2 High-Poverty Schools Planned an Opportunity Culture Overhaul

by | January 29, 2015

High-need schools. Lagging student performance. Teacher churn. “We’ve tried everything.” For many school principals, this may sound unpleasantly familiar.

At two Charlotte schools, though, the principals found something they hadn’t tried: creating an Opportunity Culture for their students and teachers.

By extending the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to many more students—for much higher pay,within available budgets, and adding time to plan, collaborate, and improve—the schools saw a way to address their dilemmas using the Opportunity Culture formula. By involving teachers at each school from the start in choosing how to extend teachers’ reach and pay more, they improved teachers’ morale, recruited more great teachers, and kept them.

“Opportunity Culture spoke to me,” says Alison Harris, principal of Ranson IB Middle School in Charlotte, in a new case study. When Harris arrived at Ranson in 2011, it was a school in trouble, unable to recruit and retain enough teachers for its struggling students.

In the 2011–2012 school year, I just made it clear that we’ve got to do something to help our scholars catch up,” Harris says in an accompanying video. “They are already coming to us behind—it is no one’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility. … For many of our scholars, it is truly life and death whether or not they get a great education in middle school.”

Nearby, Tonya Kales and Jeanette Reber at Ashley Park PreK–8 felt similar concerns about getting their students a great education. At both schools, the principals and school teams that included teachers chose to use new Opportunity Culture teaching rolesMulti-Classroom Leadership for teacher-leaders, and Time-Technology Swaps, which blend learning through in-person and online instruction.

Those roles and the support for teachers, time for collaboration, and paid career advancement options they offer would, Reber says in another new case study, help Ashley Park attract and keep teachers and further boost her students’ learning.

In Multi-Classroom Leadership, excellent teachers continue to teach while leading, supporting, and developing a team of teachers. “Teachers don’t always want to leave the classroom,” Reber says in the video. “They don’t always want to get far removed from being directly involved with scholars. So Opportunity Culture was the perfect thing for these teachers who want to stay connected with the kids and grow themselves.”

After settling on the new roles, Ranson and Ashley Park began the multiyear process of introducing, implementing, and adjusting their models.

Opportunity Culture models hold excellent teachers accountable for the learning of every student they reach, and they and their teams earn more for reaching more students.

“All of the teachers’ data is my data as well,” Ashley Park Multi-Classroom Leader Kristin Cubbage says. “Everything that they do, we’ll be doing together.”

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, multi-classroom leaders are earning pay supplements of up to $23,000—50 percent more than the average teacher salary in North Carolina, and blended-learning teachers earn supplements of up to $9,800. Good, solid teachers work side by side with outstanding peers, who can set a high standard for learning and help whole teams excel. As the district expands this approach into other schools, schools are also paying smaller supplements to teachers on teams led by excellent teachers.

Unlike many teacher supplements that come through temporary grants, these are financially sustainable, coming from current school budgets. The schools can “exchange” some of their locally funded positions—for example, by swapping some teacher and out-of-classroom specialist positions for paraprofessionals, who handle noninstructional tasks and less complex instructional supervision, freeing funding for some higher-paid positions. The district is waiting for state policy changes in North Carolina that would let it also exchange state-funded positions for these school-based innovations without paying a penalty to the state.

Although these case studies were written too early in the implementation to evaluate the impact on student learning, the schools noted the huge recruiting and retention effect they saw. After recruiting for the first year of Opportunity Culture roles, Harris had no vacancies in math—a first since she arrived at Ranson. Ashley Park had two teachers who remained at the school as multi-classroom leaders, instead of leaving for administrative positions as they had planned.

Learn more about how Multi-Classroom Leadership and Time-Technology Swap work at the schools and the planning for an Opportunity Culture in Ashley Park PreK­­–8 Launches Multi-Classroom Leadership and Blended Learning and Ranson IB Middle School Launches an Opportunity Culture.

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