Texas Launches Statewide Opportunity Culture Initiative

by | May 19, 2015

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has made Texas the first state to support multiple districts in creating an Opportunity Culture, joining the national initiative designed to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within recurring budgets.

The Big Spring Independent School District, an eight-campus district in a town of about 28,000 people in west Texas, is recruiting for its first year of implementation in the 2015–16 school year, and the TEA is identifying additional districts to support in this work.

Big Spring is leading the way for small cities and towns in Texas and across the country to adopt Opportunity Culture models. These models use job redesign and age-appropriate technology to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to many more students, for more pay, within budget.

Opportunity Culture teachers typically work in collaborative teams led by excellent teachers. Teams have in-school planning and collaboration time together and are formally accountable for all of the students they reach. Teachers in Opportunity Culture districts in Tennessee, North Carolina, and New York are earning pay supplements as high as 50 percent of their state’s average teacher pay.

”Texas is committed to providing pathways for advancement and recognition for our best teachers,” said Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “Through our support of Opportunity Culture at the state level, our goal is to quantify success in districts by working collaboratively with teachers and principals to support greater student achievement for all students.”

Public Impact, which designed the Opportunity Culture model prototypes, and Education First, which has extensive experience facilitating collaborative change in district schools, will assist the state’s 20 Education Service Centers (ESCs) and the TEA in identifying and supporting the districts.

Four Big Spring ISD elementary schools—Goliad, Marcy, Moss, and Washington—will select multi-classroom leaders to lead teams of teachers, which are supported by paraprofessional “reach associates,” at their schools. Multi-classroom leaders continue to teach while leading a team, taking formal accountability for the learning results of all the students the team serves. Each school has a design team of administrators and teachers that is adapting the multi-classroom model and planning implementation details to fit their needs, following the five Opportunity Culture Principles.

“We see Opportunity Culture as a way a small West Texas district like ours can make great strides,” Big Spring Superintendent Chris Wigington said. “By supporting great educators with on the job training and leadership opportunities, we can create teams and grow our teachers’ practice to make a difference for all of our students.”

This work comes in the second year of the TEA’s Creating Turnaround Educator Pipelines (CTEP) project. CTEP is focused on identifying and supporting turnaround efforts across the state. In the first year, the state’s ESCs trained principals and teacher-leaders at schools identified as low-performing. This year’s grant will support the selected Opportunity Culture districts in redesigning schools with a focus on teacher-leadership. CTEP dollars will support the transition, but higher teacher pay will be funded within existing school budgets, not by temporary bgrants.

Texas joins school districts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Syracuse, N.Y., and Cabarrus County, N.C., in the Opportunity Culture initiative, which Public Impact launched in 2011. Indianapolis Public Schools also recently announced its launch of Opportunity Culture in up to six schools in the 2015–16 school year.

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