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$26 million grant will reward teachers, pay for renewal development

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools will receive $26.3 million over the next three years as part of what Superintendent Lynn Moody describes as a teacher incentive grant, but it could go on indefinitely.

The Teacher and School Leadership Grant, part of an elite federal program established in 1965 and recommissioned in 2015, targets education agencies doing things that could be scaled to benefit the entire country. This grant, specially titled “Accelerate Rowan,” was announced at the end of last month’s business meeting of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education. The program used to be known as the Teacher Incentive Fund.

On Monday, Assistant Superintendent of Transformation Andrew Smith told the board the grant addresses the district’s human capital management system, which is the ecosystem of how the district handles employment from new hires to retiring staff.

Smith described the district’s employees as its most vital resource and said the grant will allow the it to fund the teachers in ways it has not been able to before. The goal is to move along the plans the district has made for renewal, a unique status granted by the state that grants broad freedoms not afforded to other districts

“How do you spend $26 million?” Smith said.

The answer is with a mixture of programs. Smith said the administration will bring budget amendment back to the board in coming meetings specifically allocating grant funds, but gave an overview of some of the ways the district wants to use the funding.

One way is a lab school model that will prepare local people to teach in the district with the renewal system as soon as soon as they graduate from local institutions.

The funding will expand how many substitutes the district can pay for to free up teachers to work on renewal-specific projects and perform field work, fund pay for work on renewal programs and create a performance incentive program, with criteria created by district teachers, which would reward the top 25% of faculty with bonus pay.

Board member Josh Wagner expressed concern about the possibility of the funds disappearing after three years and the impact of high-performing teachers taking substantial cuts to salaries.

Member Jean Kennedy said the board should be looking to the state to recognize and fund what the district is doing and commented on the underwhelming funding of teacher salaries from the state.

Board member Travis Allen was concerned about the criteria for the performance incentive because it could disproportionately benefit teachers who work at higher-performing schools which serve students from greater means than the district’s at-risk schools.

Moody said that is part of the reason why the district wants teachers to create the criteria. Moody noted the grant has the possibility to be renewed indefinitely if the district is successful, now it is part of the program.

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