As the Lucia Mar school board unanimously accepted a $7.2 million, five-year federal grant for teacher coaching and evaluation at six campuses, the district’s teachers union raised concerns with the program’s accountability requirements and how they could change the way teachers are evaluated.
San Luis Obispo County’s largest school system was one of three schools and districts in California, and one of 62 nationwide, to be awarded the grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund.
District leaders plan to use the money to launch a program called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement. It focuses on ongoing professional development — with special mentor-teaching positions — but also provides a new system for evaluating teacher performance that includes bonuses.
The program would start in the next academic year at six schools in the South County district that have more than 50 percent of students living at the poverty level — as long as 75 percent of teachers at those campuses vote to participate.
The campuses include Mesa Middle School and five elementary schools: Dana, Dorothea Lange, Fairgrove, Nipomo and Oceano.
The TAP program focuses on frequent mentoring and coaching of teachers by giving them time during their school week to work with peers and a master teacher who would be selected for each campus.
“From my perspective, teachers are not getting the feedback and coaching they need to improve,” Superintendent Jim Hogeboom said.
“If you look at student test scores, our teachers are doing a great job,” he added. “But I think they could do even better if they got specific feedback and coaching, especially from some great teachers.”
Though the Lucia Mar board has accepted the federal grant, Hogeboom said the next step is to discuss details about the program with teachers and negotiate with the union.
The district must negotiate the performance-based bonuses and added pay for mentor teachers with the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association.
Union President Lloyd Walzer said his organization has several concerns, including how the program would affect teachers’ evaluations.
Teacher performance evaluation and merit-based compensation have long been contentious issues among school administrators, public school watchdogs and employee unions.
More recently, a Los Angeles Times ranking of teachers in that city’s school system — based on improvements on standardized test scores and other district evaluation criteria — drew ire from the teachers union there.
“Only a few select schools will be receiving funding for the TAP program,” Walzer wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune. “We are afraid this will create haves and have-nots, which may then have the effect of undermining the culture of collaboration and sharing we believe all stakeholders in the district would like to see.”
He said the teachers union was meeting again on Thursday to further discuss the program.
Board member Dawn Hinchman said she supports launching the program “with whatever modifications may be necessary to garner support of our teachers union.”
The program, she said, is similar to one the district started last year, in which several teachers were put on special assignments.
This year, four teachers travel to various Lucia Mar schools and support teachers and students who need help with English or language arts and math.
They also help pupils whose native language isn’t English and assist teachers with measuring student growth.
“This is a formal way of doing what we’ve already started doing,” Hinchman said.
Under the TAP program, teachers would be eligible for $3,000 bonuses depending on whether they meet certain goals. Principals would also be eligible for bonuses.
In addition, one teacher at each school would be made a master teacher and would work full-time with other teachers — likely opening up six teaching positions.
Master teachers would receive an additional $10,000 and have their contracts extended 20 days per year.
Two mentor teachers at each school would receive an additional $5,000 and have 10 extra days in their contracts, according to district officials.
Teachers likely won’t vote until next spring. The district will receive $740,000 the first year of the grant, which is a planning year, but does not have to spend any local money the first year.
The district will have to spend about $1 million over the five-year life of the grant, but Hogeboom said general funds will not be used.
He said he would look to other sources, such as federal funds distributed to schools based on how many students are low-income or funds set aside for professional development.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated on Twitter by following @SouthCountyBeat.