Private aid will benefit teachers at Grover school

Since February, administrators with the Lucia Mar Unified School District have been searching for funds so that teachers at Grover Heights Elementary School in Grover Beach could participate in a teacher training and evaluation program.

On Monday, the teachers learned the result: the school will receive money from a private foundation in time to start the program this fall.

The school was one of seven in Lucia Mar that agreed to participate in the program, but federal funding — a $7.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund — would only cover six schools. An eighth school that voted, Dana Elementary in Nipomo, turned the program down.

Grover Heights’ program will be funded the first year with a $240,000 grant from the Stuart Foundation, a San Francisco-based independent family foundation. The district — which sought the funding from the foundation — will have to request a renewal in subsequent years.

The program, called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Achievement, aims to give teachers more coaching, additional classroom observations and weekly meetings with peers and a master teacher. The overall goals are to achieve measurable gains in student performance and to help attract and retain quality teachers and principals.

It also provides a new way for evaluating teacher performance that includes bonuses.

But the TAP program is not without its critics, some of whom say awarding performance pay places too much emphasis on standardized tests. And one study of Chicago public schools in their second year of TAP found no evidence the program raised test scores.

But that study, by Mathematica Policy Research, included the caveat that the program was in its early stages and might not reflect the impacts of the program in its steady state.

Other schools, including Rolling Hills Elementary, located in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, have seen results. Teachers from Grover Heights Elementary visited that school earlier in the year before they voted on whether to approve the TAP program.

Rolling Hills Elementary Principal Gene Morrow said the program has played a huge part in the school’s turnaround, from being rated “academically unacceptable” to meeting or exceeding state achievement targets. The school’s fifth-graders this year posted the district’s best math and reading scores.

“Teacher capacity has increased, teacher leadership ability and retention is high, and overall campus test scores have increased,” Morrow said Monday.

The Lucia Mar district is the first in California to start the program. Besides Grover Heights, six other schools will start TAP this year: Mesa and Judkins middle schools and Dorothea Lange, Fairgrove, Nipomo and Oceano elementary schools.

For the program to take effect, 75 percent of the teachers at each campus had to agree to join it. At Grover Heights, 91 percent of its 18 teachers voted in favor of it in February.

After Superintendent Jim Hogeboom’s announcement Monday, a few Grover Heights teachers said they liked the program because it aligns with the collaborative work they’re already doing but will give them more structure and time to meet, evaluate data and share strategies.

“It allows even more time for working together as a cohesive team,” kindergarten teacher Debbie Olivarria said. “It allows us to pull together as a school and shine.”