Top 12 Questions Teachers have for District Administration

These are the top 12 questions answered during the nine forums hosted by the Teacher Advisory Council. We have put the district answers in a easy to view format.

1. When will our CITE Evaluation be tied to our pay?

2. Will CITE evaluation information be made public?

3. Will DCSD high schools be allowed to return to a 5-of-7 schedule?

4. Why were the salary bands created?

5. Can teachers negotiate their salaries?

6. When will World-Class Outcomes, Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum and other items that exceed the state standards be solidified?

7. What is the expectation for the number of backwards design units a teacher should complete?

8. Who developed the latest version of CITE?

9. Is there a maximum number of teachers that can be evaluated as highly effective?

10. When will we know our salary for next year? How will it be calculated? Will raises be differentiated by evaluation?

11. How do you plan to retain veteran teachers and attract new teachers?

12. Is there an employee handbook in place?

Here is a synopsis of the 12 Questions answered.

1. When will our CITE Evaluation be tied to our pay?

This year, CITE Standards 1-5 will be used to differentiate pay along with market-based pay indicators in determining what pay teachers will receive. Higher performing teachers will receive a higher increase in compensation, as will teachers that are on the low end of the payscale according to market indicators. At no time will teachers’ pay be reduced. A pilot group of teachers will use all of the CITE standards this year.

2. Will CITE evaluation information be made public?

 “The District has no interest in or intention to publicly share an individual teacher’s performance. We never have done that,” Fagen said. According to DCSD Legal Counsel Rob Ross, this type of performance information is protected from Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) inquiries. Aggregate information regarding the performance of a school or the District may, however, be released.

 3. Will DCSD high schools be allowed to return to a 5-of-7 schedule?

DCSD believes in school autonomy. Our schools may choose to run whichever schedule best serves their community, as long as it meets the following requirements: -Maintains class sizes of 30 students or less -Students still have access to the classes they wish to take, including electives -Teachers are afforded the same amount of prep time as teachers at elementary, middle school teachers. -The school meets budget requirements.

4. Why were the salary bands created?

Differentiation in the salary started about 92 years ago, with the invention of the Step-and-Lane system. “We classified every teacher as a teacher,” explained Chief Human Resources Officer Brian Cesare. “It didn’t matter if you were a nurse or a psychologist or a second grade teacher, everybody fell in the same pay band.” Teachers with more experience or a degree could be placed in a higher step, but otherwise teachers were grouped by the number of years they taught. Realizing that it was often harder to hire specialists, the system evolved and a new category called “hard to fill” was added. “We had a lot of teachers in one pocket and we had another group with psychologists and SPED teachers in the hard to fill category,” Cesare added. “There was no clear distinction on what was hard to fill or within that category which jobs were harder to fill than others.” In order to attract the best talent, school districts often would offer candidates additional years of experience or other arbitrary financial incentives. “Today, instead of doing that behind the scenes and being indiscriminate, we are clearly articulate about what the bands are and what positions are in those bands,” Cesare explained. “What we wanted to do is to use some more objective data and take it out to the market and see if there are two categories (normal and hard to fill) or if there are more. If there were more, was there a clear distinction we can make in that category?” The Human Resources department identified 70 different types of positions that had been traditionally forced into into two categories. Last spring, during the hiring season, the HR staff worked to situate the positions within five pay categories—based solely on their market value or in other words, how much supply there was for each position. On a nearly daily basis HR staff would speak to principals and analyze whether the bands created were adequate to attracting the best possible talent. According to Cesare, it worked. DCSD made more than 400 offers last year and all but six accepted the jobs. Regularly HR reevaluates the market indicators, shifting positions to different pay bands, if needed.

5. Can teachers negotiate their salaries?

How is the District addressing disparities in salary? With four years of pay freezes and new employees being hired under the old pay system with additional years of service, some disparities were created. A lot of people were historically coming into the District and getting paid more than the people currently in the District,” Cesare explained.

With the market pay system the District is working to address this disparity in a couple ways: 1. Teachers being hired on lower pay bands do not make as much as existing teachers in the system. 2. End across the board pay increases. Now market pay will be taken into consideration when salary is determined. Individuals that are lower in the marketplace will receive a larger increase, as will those that are higher effective. The highest raises will be given to teachers that are high performers and positioned low in the marketplace.

6. When will World-Class Outcomes, Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum and other items that exceed the state standards be solidified?

Elementary educators began the process of drafting World Class Outcomes before the secondary group, so their version 2.0 is nearly done. “What we said to principals and to teachers was, ‘if for whatever reason your CITE is not completed, then you should rely on the state standards or the national standards,” Fagen said. She says the District is comfortable with teachers replacing the language in CITE with the state standards or national standards if their CITE standards are not completed. “We understood that transition was going to take some time,” Fagen said. The World Class Education department is currently uploading the 2.0 version of CTE courses. The 2.0 versions of the elective courses will be uploaded in the next two weeks. By the end of April, all of the 2.0 versions of the core courses will be uploaded. Chief Academic Officer for Secondary Education Dr. Carolyn Jefferson Jenkins says their goal is to have all of the work finished by the end of the school year. “If the 2.0 versions are not there, the default position is the Colorado Academic Standards. In many of the courses there are also National Standards that we have incorporated as well,” Jefferson Jenkins said. “Rest assured, the 2.0 versions will be ready by the end of this school year for use in the next school year.”

7. What is the expectation for the number of backwards design units a teacher should complete?

Superintendent Fagen spoke about backward design and how it should work for DCSD teachers. The following is an excerpt of what she said. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what backwards design units are. Alot of people think of them as chapters. They are really not chapters. Backwards design units are around big ideas or high-level concepts.” As a teacher I like to look out across the course of the year, what are the big ideas or the enduring understandings I want my students to have the opportunity to explore thoroughly and have skills in over that time. Then I chop up my time in those units,” Fagen said. “Teachers have to decide what they want to thread through all units and things they want to have as separate units. Once you have done that the idea is to create backward design unit for those big chunks of concepts and skills. Historically we have focused on the micro level of what we teach. As time has gone on it has become very apparent that students do not always make the connections. The simple example I give is that it is like riding a bike. You have one unit on learning how to steer, then peddling, then balance, then the rules of the road, but never actually riding a bike. Elective teachers, particularly fine arts, have always taught to the greater end. They don’t teach one unit on scale and then on pitch, they teach all accumulatively, together. Coaches do the same thing. What we want teachers to do is to look at their course or year if you’re an elementary teacher, and think about what does it look like over the course of the year? What are the big ideas I want to make sure and get to and then create those backward design units for each of those big concepts. I would say that for most teachers they’d probably have four to six backwards design units over the course of a year. When I talk to teachers, if they look at it as chapters it feels very overwhelming. When you think of it as high-level concepts that come together, it’s much more manageable. When it comes to monitoring, we understand that we have changed the expectations. We want to support teachers in the development of one amazing unit, so they can say, ‘Ok, I understand this.’ From there they can create more units. We also want to create the ability for people to share, because if I have an amazing unit in microbiology and Julie has an amazing unit on botany, why would I reinvent the wheel? We could share, collaborate across schools, I could modify it for my students so I can make sure it is differentiated for my students needs. The idea is that students deserve and should have quality units throughout the whole year, and that is where we want to go. We understand that is a journey. We want to support people in getting there.

8. Who developed the latest version of CITE?

There have been about 20 iterations of DCSD’s teacher evaluation system, known as Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE). Teachers and District administrators created the original version in January 2009. The passage of Colorado’s Teacher Effectiveness Bill (Senate Bill 191) meant new requirements from the state in this area. A committee at the state level worked on the state evaluation instrument, which was finished in July 2012. DCSD was following the work at the state level and tried to adapt CITE to match the new requirements. The final state document ended up being 32 pages long and was repetitive and unclear. District leaders began work on refining the instrument so that teachers and principals could use it more easily. “There was work done to streamline to make sure that each thing was only done once, so it was not repetitive and so if you weren’t good at differentiation, you didn’t fail every standard,” Fagen said. “We crosswalked it back to the state instrument.” “I don’t think the state instrument is bad. I just don’t think it give specific feedback to a teacher about their performance, which is then actionable. That’s the other part of an evaluation. It’s not about a ‘gotcha,’ coming into your classroom and seeing you and saying, ‘you did a great job…’ I think it is about you as an educator being able to look at the information you are getting back and say, ‘ok, what can I do next to get better.” Knowing that each area of instruction is different, teachers from 20 different specialties were invited to help differentiate the CITE documents. The goal was to ensure that the standards were appropriate for the work they do, whether it is fine arts, physical education or counseling. “One thing we were committed to was not modeling bad practices. That is why we had these groups come together and say ‘World Class outcomes for kids, what does that look like for what you do?” Those teacher leaders were given the flexibility to modify or even completely rewrite CITE standards to meet the needs of their specialty. All of those CITE Standards are now posted. ****

9. Is there a maximum number of teachers that can be evaluated as highly effective?

No, there is no quota, no limits. It is up to each individual to strive to whatever level they strive to be. “The CITE evaluation instrument is a criterion-referenced system. It is not a norm-referenced system,” Fagen said. “Every person in our system, all 3,400 teachers that hit those targets and demonstrate consistently throughout the year that they differentiate and collaborate with students, make sure they’re teaching World Class Outcomes and creating units that are interdisciplinary and integrate 21st Century Skills. Every single teacher that does that consistently across the course of the year for students gets that rating. There is no norm-reference. There is no bell curve. None of those things.” Superintendent Fagen also dispelled rumors that principals have been given quotas when it comes to evaluations. “They have been told only that they need to use the CITE system with fidelity, to be consistent, to be honest, to be fair, to get data, to share with teaches what we are and what we are not seeing and to give them an opportunity to grow and develop,” Fagen said.

10. When will we know our salary for next year? How will it be calculated? Will raises be differentiated by evaluation?

Yes, we will be linking evaluation to pay this year (see question #1). We expect to receive ratings from the first five standards of CITE in April or May. At about the same time we will receive news from the state legislature on what their K-12 funding will be for this year. The District will consider a 12 block grid when determining raises, differentiating pay based on performance and placement in the market. “We have already announced that our increase will be no less than 2 percent on average,” explained Fagen. “Basically that would look like 2 percent in that effective at market box.” She says District leadership hopes that they will be able to provide a larger raise, but that will be determined by the allocation given by the state legislature. This is the first year of the system so a lot of care will be taken. “What we have said all along is that we are going to do this reasonably. We are going to take all of the data into consideration as we are making these decisions,” Fagen said. “We just have so little information from the state and across the system right now, because this is the inaugural year of CITE Standards 1-5.” “We know people want to know, we want to know too, but we also want to do it right. We want to be deliberate and think through all these options and opportunities,” Fagen added. Any raises will be effective as for the July payroll.

11. How do you plan to retain veteran teachers and attract new teachers?

“One of the nice things about market based pay is that we can now pay competitively and attract the really good teachers,” explained Cesare. “The other thing is once we attract the really good teachers, then we will be able to retain them by them being able to see that they are going to get a differentiated pay based on their performance.” “In my mind a really, really good teacher is someone who is going to perform well,” he continued. “If they perform well, they are going to get higher increases. Those higher increases are going to most likely be higher than anybody else in the surrounding areas.” “The other districts are paying an average increase and paying a flat percentage to everybody, they can’t really pay their top performers more in that scenario, where we can. That is how we can attract and retain,” Cesare said. While salary is an important factor, Superintendent Fagen says she knows that great teachers are looking for more. “The best teachers I’ve worked with love professional autonomy and discretion and they hate prescription and pacing guides—these things that say on Thursday you will teach this from this page or you will give this test and we will use all of these standardized tests to measure your performance,” Fagen said. “It is my experience that teachers that are great want to know their students well, want professional autonomy, they believe teaching is truly an art and science. They need the opportunity to gather all that information together and create the best possible learning situation. It is my observation that this district is the most empowering. This is a district, where if you want to be a teacher-leader in whatever format that is—if you want to lead other teachers, if you want to be the best unit designer in the District, if you want to be the best with students in this particular area, all of those opportunities are more than available. “We want teacher leadership. We want it at the table, we want it in the classroom. We want it everywhere. We want a system built by teachers for students. It is my experience that while the money is important, because we all have to pay our bills and we all have to have a quality of life and teachers deserve professional pay, that equally important to that is the opportunity to innovate and to have professional autonomy. We are very, very committed to making sure that those things are in this district. I think the best teachers out there are attracted to that opportunity,” Fagen said. The District also is working to have one of the best professional development systems in the state—which will include a state-of-the-art induction program. Plus, DCSD has put itself on solid financial footing, allowing the District to provide raises when many districts where still imposing pay and benefits cuts or furloughs. “A lot of districts have great teachers, but we have great buildings, great teachers. Some of the districts around us passed bonds just to fill in the hole they had, but they haven’t solved the issue they have with the step and lane or health benefits for staff,” said Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

12. Is there an employee handbook in place?

“When the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expired in June of 2012, because we were unable to come to an agreement on negotiations, we copied and pasted all of the working conditions items out of the CBA into the Compensation and Benefits Program (CBP) and we literally just moved it over,” Fagen explained. With the exception of adding an increase in pay, the working condition terms in the CBP are exactly what they were in the CBA. “Douglas County has always been a district of change and innovation and that’s pretty much our motto,” said Cesare. “If something doesn’t work right, we’re going to make it work perfectly, if we can.” “If there are things that don’t make sense or need to be updated—we will do that,” Fagen added. While District leadership is open to discussion on changes, any modifications would be announced and would be considered by the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council, prior to implantation. Want to know more? Join the process. Superintendent Fagen encourages employees to get involved. “If you are nervous about Standard 6 and you want to be part of the conversation, then be part of the Standard 6 Taskforce. If you just want to talk about operations in the district in general, get on the superintendent advisory groups. If you want to work on curriculum talk with Dr. Jefferson Jenkins and look at GVC liaisons,” Fagen said. “If you want to be involved, we invite everyone to do that.”

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3 responses to “Top 12 Questions Teachers have for District Administration

  1. Pingback: Ed is Watching » Colorado House Bill 1257 and the Quest to Stifle Local Education Innovation·

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