Lucia Mar teacher training program facing setback

The Lucia Mar Unified School District’s teachers union has voted against an agreement with the district on a training and evaluation program that was started at seven schools last year.

The Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association’s decision this week could disrupt the district’s plans to continue the Teacher Advancement Program, commonly called TAP, in the upcoming school year.

District Superintendent Jim Hogeboom called Thursday’s vote a definite setback, but said negotiations with the union would resume next week and the program could move forward in the next school year even as negotiations continue.

“I’m still confident that we can work something out,” he said. “The district is approaching this as it’s going to happen. We have some training scheduled and mentor teachers to hire and feel we need to go ahead with that.”

The district is funding the program largely through a $7.2 million, five-year federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant that it received in 2010. The federal money pays for TAP at Mesa and Judkins middle schools and four elementary schools: Dorothea Lange, Fairgrove, Nipomo and Oceano.

The Stuart Foundation, a San Francisco-based independent family foundation, has also given about $480,000 to fund the TAP model at Grover Heights Elementary because a majority of teachers at that school voted in favor of the program but there wasn’t enough federal money.

Teachers union President Lloyd Walzer said the program has created divisiveness among union members.

He said he’s heard concerns over the way teachers at TAP sites are evaluated, in part by using test scores, and that the program’s potential for performance based-pay creates a disparate situation among teachers at the district’s 17 schools.

Others disagree with the district’s decision to move ahead with a new high school on the Nipomo High campus and could be voting their frustration with that program, Walzer said. Central Coast New Tech High, a small-school program with an emphasis on technology and project-based learning, is slated to open in August.

“I think the resentment has been building up,” he said.

Meanwhile, some teachers at TAP schools are upset and are circulating a petition calling for another vote, this time one that’s limited to teachers at campuses with the program, said Colleen Franco, a master teacher at Fairgrove Elementary in Grover Beach.

“TAP teachers who have been living it and loving it voted yes,” she said.

Administrators and teachers involved in TAP had said that the program provides more detailed and consistent feedback for teachers, more data and benchmarks to track student growth, and instruction that is tailored to each school site’s specific needs.

Jim Gentilucci, a Cal Poly associate professor who is evaluating the program as a requirement of the federal grant, recently interviewed 31 teachers and administrators at random about the program.

“Teachers said without exception that TAP had helped them improve their teaching practice,” he said.

They also found the first year of TAP to be stressful and overwhelming, Gentilucci said, but many told him they were looking forward to the second year.

Teachers also reported their students, especially the English-language learners, were more engaged, more willing to take on leadership roles and are making gains in their language fluency, Gentilucci said.

The TAP system combines weekly “cluster” meetings with small groups of teachers to discuss teaching strategies, multiple teacher observations tied to elements of effective teaching, and the potential for bonus pay based on evaluations and student growth.

Each TAP school has two master teachers who lead weekly meetings, model strategies in teachers’ classrooms and observe their work; and two or more mentor teachers who help to lead the professional development efforts. The mentor teachers remain classroom teachers; the master teachers do not.

The first year was a planning year; TAP officially started at schools in August, with the caveat that the program details are negotiated into the union’s contract each year.

Walzer said the union overwhelmingly voted to ratify its contract with the district but voted down TAP with about 165 members against and 135 in favor. The vote was open to the union membership, including teachers at schools that are not in the program.

“I feel strongly that if it’s an agreement of the association then all teachers should have the right to decide,” Walzer said, “because in a way it does indirectly affect everyone.”

Hogeboom said some misinformation might have contributed to Thursday’s vote, including the idea that the program would siphon money away from the district’s general fund.

He said it’s saving the district about $300,000 because the federal grant is paying the master teacher salaries, and their former classroom positions have been filled with less experienced teachers at lower salaries.

Also, the agreement includes an opt-out clause for schools that no longer want to participate (though Walzer countered that the bar could be too difficult to reach).

“I still give our union credit for working with us and doing something that no one else is doing,” Hogeboom said. “We see how well TAP is working as a staff development growth tool and that would be the saddest thing if that was going away.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.