Dear Lucia Mar Staff Members:
Can you believe it is already October? The first weeks of school have flown by, and Halloween and the holidays will be here before we know it.
There has been lots of talk and discussion lately about the TIF grant and TAP system. I have received many questions about both of these topics, so I wanted to take this opportunity to try and explain the reasons the district applied for this money and what the TAP system is all about. As I am sure most of you know by now, the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) recently announced that our district was chosen as one of 62 applicants nationwide to receive $7.2 million to fund the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement. At a special school board meeting on September 27, the board formally ratified the grant and accepted the funding. I am very concerned over the amount of mis-information and inaccuracies surrounding TIF and TAP that I have heard and read, so please allow me to explain and clarify some key points in this message:
• What was the motive for applying for this grant? What was the intent?
• What is wrong with what we are doing now? Why is TAP necessary?
• What is the purpose of TIF?
• What are the key components of TAP?
• What are the misconceptions?
• What are the next steps?
Why TIF and TAP?
My motive for wanting to bring the TAP system to Lucia Mar was two-fold. First of all, I wanted to bring an instructional model to our district that is currently lacking. I first read about TAP's 19 point rubric (see attached), in a report entitled "Aligned by Design," and discovered it was based on a number of frameworks such as Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching and the University of Virginia's Classroom Assessment Scoring System, among others. While not perfect by any means, the rubric provides a written description of specific teacher competencies that is based on a 5 point scale, with a "3" representing proficient performance. Secondly, I was excited about the model for using master and mentor teachers to help provide on-site feedback and coaching on a daily basis to help our teachers improve. Weekly cluster meetings are led by the master and mentor teachers in a professional learning community format. My most basic intent in applying for the TIF grant to pay for the TAP system was simply to provide the district with a structure and supports that could help our teachers and our principals to refine their professional skills. That is it. I do not have any secret agendas or motives other than what I have just explained.
What is wrong with what we are doing now?
Nothing. In fact, student achievement in Lucia Mar continues to improve, and our students are becoming more proficient on the standardized tests and district benchmarks. We are making strong progress as a district, and Lucia Mar has been and continues to be the best district in the County, in my opinion. In particular, we put a strong emphasis on results and student learning goals, we work collaboratively in professional learning teams, we are using student data to inform our instruction, and we provide strong interventions for our struggling students. We also have several very effective Teachers On Special Assignment (TOSA's). All of these elements are essential to our growth and success. Nevertheless, the opportunity to use a huge sum of money over a five year period to put a strong instructional model in place in six schools that includes differentiated, individual coaching and specific feedback is one that I believe will take our improvement efforts to the next level. Currently, without the TIF grant, we simply do not have the resources or the capacity to provide the staff development, training and coaching that is needed. The TAP system is one that is comprehensive, is well-designed, and has a proven track record of success in other states.
What is the purpose of the Teacher Incentive Fund?
The five-year $1.2 billion federal TIF program was started under President Bush and significantly expanded under the Obama administration. The purpose is to strengthen the education profession by rewarding excellence, attracting teachers and principals to high-need and hard to staff areas, and providing all teachers and principals with the feedback and support they need to succeed. In particular, the grant is aimed towards high-needs schools, which must have at least 50% of their students on Free and Reduced Lunch to qualify for the grant. The TIF grant also mandates a bonus pay system for teachers and principals that includes student growth and school growth as two of the components.
What are the key elements of TAP?
1. Multiple Career Paths: Each elementary school would have one fully-released master teacher and two mentor teachers, while each middle school would have two master teachers and three mentor teachers. Master teachers work an extra 20 days, and mentor teachers work an extra 10 days.
2. On-going professional development: The school schedule is modified to provide about an hour each week for cluster meetings at each grade level or department level. This is a form of professional learning community where teachers look at student data, plans lessons, and learns new instructional strategies under the direction of the master and mentor teachers. Literacy Support Teachers would provide coverage of the classrooms on a weekly basis.
3. Instructionally Focused Accountability: Teachers are observed at least four times a year by the administrator, master or mentor teacher using research-based rubrics for several dimensions of instructional quality. Observers are trained and certified on these rubrics. The principal is still responsible for the actual teacher evaluation.
4. Performance-based Compensation: Teachers in a TAP school have the opportunity to earn bonuses averaging about $3,000 per teacher at each site. The bonuses are based on rubric scores, students' achievement gains and school achievement growth. In TAP schools across the nation, on average over 90% of the teachers receive a bonus.
What are the misconceptions?
1. The district is not trying to rush ahead with TAP, or force it upon any school. To the contrary, our main goal is to ensure that teachers have all the information they need to make an informed decision about whether TAP is right for each particular school identified in the grant. Each school must have 75% of the teachers vote to have the TAP model used at the school; we are in no hurry to take a vote until everyone is ready to do so.
2. TAP is not going to be implemented at all schools in the district. We have identified 6 Title I schools as possible candidates: Dana, Fairgrove, Lange, Oceano, Nipomo and Mesa.
3. The district will negotiate a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the LMUTA bargaining team to work out the details of how TAP will be implemented in Lucia Mar. We wanted to wait and see if we received the grant before we moved ahead with negotiations. While there are some non-negotiables with TAP, there is a lot of local flexibility with how to implement the details of the TAP system. We have known all along that TAP could not be implemented without the support of our teachers, and will collaborate on the implementation as well. (An MOU does not make any change to the current contract language; it would only apply to the 6 TAP schools.)
4. No general fund money will be used to fund TAP. The district is required to provide matching funds, which rise from 0 in the first year to $420,000 in year It is our intention to use Title I and Title II (staff development) funds to provide the district matching money.
5. Teachers will not be evaluating other teachers. Master and mentor teachers will provide input and feedback to the school principals on the TAP rubric, but the principal will remain the evaluator of the teachers.
6. The TAP rubric will not be used to fire teachers!! The purpose of TAP is to provide teachers and principals with coaching and feedback. We already have a PAR system in place for teachers needing assistance; the TAP system will not replace this. We are not trying to get rid of the current seniority system or the current tenure system with TAP-that is not part of our intention at all.
The first year of the TIF grant provides $739,390 for planning, which includes hiring a TIF project coordinator, travel to observe TAP schools, staff development and training. We have a TAP Planning Team in place which consists of the principal and two teachers from each of the possible TAP schools, and they are helping to determine a communication plan for each school and exactly what needs to be done to make sure each teacher has all of the information necessary to make an informed decision about TAP. We will also begin negotiating an MOU with LMUTA as soon as possible in October. Andy Stenson has scheduled staff meeting presentations at the six schools identified in the TIF grant. These visits will take place in October, and he will open a line of communication with each staff for questions and answers.
Put simply, our district has seen a 20% reduction in state funding over the past three years. Unfortunately for us, these economic times collided with an increasing level of accountability that is unprecedented. We are in district-wide Program Improvement sanctions, and have seven individual schools that are in Program Improvement. While money cannot solve all of our challenges, adding instructional coaches, providing structured release time, and accessing some of the best and most creative teachers across the nation (through the TAP online library of strategies and videotaped demonstration lessons) can certainly help.
The strength of Lucia Mar has always been our ability to do more with less, to work smarter than our neighboring districts, to run a lean and focused organization, and to work together to achieve our results. We have always been a very strong district, and we are currently making great gains. I know we are also a district that has never been satisfied with the job we are doing, and that we are always striving to grow and improve-that too has been our strength over the years. I am so excited about the great possibilities that will come with this amazing grant, and trust that we will embrace the opportunity to grow and learn and be better educators in the process. After all, our student's learning and growth is dependent on our continuing to learn and grow as well.
I hope you all have a great weekend, and thanks so much for all of your hard work on behalf of our students.