This spring, Bend-La Pine Schools and the Bend Education Association accomplished something no other school district in Oregon has done. It adopted a new professional compensation and salary advancement model for educators entering the profession. The new compensation model is designed to incorporate specific areas of professional interest for both the district and the Bend Education Association, and is intended to align more closely with professional development and experiences that correlate with teacher effectiveness. You can access the model here to learn more about its details. To learn more about how Bend-La Pine navigated through this process, read the interview below with Dan Jones, CLASS project coordinator and a former teacher and union president.
Why do you think Bend-La Pine School District was the first district in the state to succeed in designing and implementing a new compensation model?
The seeds for a new compensation model were planted in 2007 when Chalkboard Project was recruiting districts to join the soon-to-launch CLASS initiative. Although our district wasn’t ready to join the first cohort, we were excited about the transformational opportunity CLASS provided through its four blueprint areas (career paths, evaluation, professional development, and compensation). When we joined CLASS in 2008, we quickly ascertained that moving the needle on compensation would be a challenging endeavor. We faced a depressed economy, making it incredibly challenging to push for a new compensation model when we had gone through multiple years of hiring freezes. So the first year, we focused our energy on redesigning our systems within the three other blueprint areas, while gathering data and research across the country on alternative compensation models. We may not have been actively redesigning our existing compensation system, but we were actively learning about what others were doing in this area. By the second year, we were ready to start. Five years later we finally had a model we could present to the school district that had buy in and commitment from all key stakeholder groups.
Why is this a better model than the previous one?
Our previous model was similar to compensation models used in most school districts across the country, which took into account years of experience and college credit and degrees accrued, regardless of whether these were related to teaching. We were deeply dissatisfied with the current system because it had little correlation between experience, professional development, and teaching effectiveness. In designing our new model, we felt strongly that we must answer three questions: (1) why change? (2) what should the new model reflect? and (3) what should the components be?
Our new model offers a balanced framework that supports professional advancement by focusing on professional development and refinement of educational practice, thereby promoting instructional results and teaching excellence. In the new model, teachers can determine the pace of their career advancement: they can accelerate their advancement or decide to hold back due to other personal and professional priorities.
How much resistance did you face during the process?
The greatest resistance we faced was the challenge of the unknown. We knew on which components we wanted to focus, but didn’t have a blueprint to follow. We were both discovering and designing at the same time. We understood how crucial it was to communicate what we were doing, but we had very little information to share. And when we finally had something substantive to bring forward, some were surprised at how much we had accomplished. We found it particularly challenging to keeping everyone abreast and educated about our progress and the work underway. Ongoing and frequent communication, although demanding, was essential in our ability to move forward and to our eventual success.
How difficult was it to bring such a diverse stakeholder group to the table?
We started with a small committee and then expanded to ensure we had the best representation of all key stakeholders at the table. The committee was co-chaired by a teacher and administrator, which helped us model the collaborative and transparent environment we wanted to achieve. The committee eventually grew from 11 to 22 members to include 19 teachers and three administrators. The members represented a diverse, cross section of stakeholders—from new, mid career, and veteran teachers; elementary and secondary levels; counseling, student services, building representatives; administrators; and union leaders.
How did the stakeholder groups respond to the new model?
The biggest concern most groups had was the potential of introducing subjective bias into the new compensation model. As I mentioned earlier, teachers moved across the old compensation schedule automatically, based on years of experience and college credit hours taken. Teachers were accustomed to this approach. The new model took into account multiple measures. For example, while years of experience were still a component, college credits taken were expected to be meaningful and directly tied to the teaching practice. Other components included teacher evaluations and students assessments. Teachers wanted to know if high-stakes testing would be part of the new schedule and, if so, how would it be weighted? Would national priorities around teacher evaluation influence the new compensation model?
To overcome these concerns, we decided to move forward with two compensation systems—the existing one and the new model. This kept the current salary structure in tact and allowed us to test the new model with a small, well-defined cohort group. Beginning in fall 2014, certified new-to-profession hires, as well as second and third year teachers who elect to opt in, will move through the new compensation model.
How will you know if the model is working as designed?
The model will be monitored and evaluated by the district and union each year for five years to determine if the system is working within the established parameters and goals. This will include structured professional development and a mentor program. We will continue to refine the model based on lessons learned. Most importantly, we have teaching professionals who are committed to staying involved and helping us test and refine the process.
What could derail the new compensation model?
Many factors could hinder our success. For example, the economic situation could worsen. Our goal was to create a compensation model that would be cost neutral. But depending on funding levels, we may not be able to sustain the schedule at past levels. Another key factor is not knowing how state and federal requirements regarding high-stakes testing, student data, and other requirements will impact our evaluation system, thus effecting our compensation schedule. But we remain optimistic and will continue to build out the model for the remaining two categories of compensation—professional and master educators.
How do you believe this new model will elevate the teaching profession?
Our goal is to elevate the profession by supporting a reflective and effective practitioner. We want to keep good teachers in the classroom, recognize their contributions, and compensate them adequately. We believe the new model will help us achieve higher retention, better recruitment, stronger support, and an aligned system. We want teachers and administrators to see this as a joint effort, and we want our best teachers to stay and teach in the Bend-La Pine school district.
What are three points of advice you would share with others who are embarking on this work?
Number 1. Build a broad-based, representative, and committed team to drive this work.
Number 2. Know your goals. They must be relevant and answer the three questions I stated earlier: (1) why change? (2) what should the new model reflect? and (3) what should the components be?
Number 3. Be committed to constant and transparent communication. Create a strong communication system that allows for constant feedback.
What do you hope you have accomplished within the five-year trial period?
I hope we designed a structurally sound system, with a framework in place that allows everyone to plan ahead. We have several remaining questions to answer to make sure the system is sustainable, and we will be working on answering those and many others in the next five years. My hope is that we have a complete compensation system starting with early career to master educators.
What are your hopes beyond the first five years?
I hope we discover that a new compensation system is both possible and a better alternative to past systems. We want this to become a self-sustaining model not supported or funded through grants. During the first five years and beyond, I am confident we will continue to build supports within the teaching profession. I’d like to see more opt-in opportunities at the mid- and master career levels, which will build more educational capacity within the district. Ultimately, we want to instill long-term loyalty among educators to the district and we believe transforming our compensation model is an important step in that direction.
Dan Jones has spent a thirty-seven year career in the field of education, primarily as a classroom instructor, and for the last two years with a split assignment in the classroom and as Coordinator of the CLASS Project/TIF Grants. In addition to his contracted roles and responsibilities, he has additionally expanded his professional expertise throughout his career to include participation and leadership capacities at the district, regional, and state levels on a wide variety of educationally-related committees.
- Teacher Leadership
- Educator Workforce