Charlotte to Expand Opportunity Culture to Almost Half Its Schools

We have exciting news , with potentially big implications for teachers and students: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) announced a scale-up of its use of Opportunity Culture models that extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget. The Belk Foundation, a local family foundation, announced a rare, three-year commitment to fund the redesign work, after which the models will be financially sustainable.

For far too long, the field has relied on unsustainably funded career paths. “Sustainable” equaled “We’ll apply for another grant.” This has limited opportunities to districts with superior grant-writing abilities, not the many more with committed, capable leaders who truly want to help more children learn and more teachers excel. With sustainable models, CMS—and other districts that follow its lead—can make a long-term promise to current and prospective teachers, rather than snatching back extra pay, and the roles it funds, after a few years.

Our team at Public Impact will partner with Education Resource Strategies to help schools select and adapt models that reallocate funds to pay teachers more for taking responsibility for more students’ learning, directly and by leading teaching teams in fully accountable leadership roles. Together, we will also help school teams, all of which include teachers, increase on-the-job planning and development time, and provide for flexible scheduling and grouping.

In fall 2013, four schools within the Project L.I.F.T. zone of high-need CMS schools began implementing Opportunity Culture models, which we developed in consultation with teachers nationwide from organizations including Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence.

Now, CMS school design teams that include teachers and school leaders will integrate the new models into 17 more schools this year, and more schools will join the implementation in each of the two years after that, with almost half of the district’s schools implementing by 2017–18. The Belk Foundation will fund transition costs with a grant of $505,000, one of the foundation’s largest ever.

With Opportunity Culture models, schools can extend the reach of excellent teachers and the teams they lead to more students, for more pay, within budget—making significant pay increases possible for all teachers when implemented schoolwide. The models allow teachers to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom. Thus far, schools have chosen models that create teaching teams that can focus on delivering truly excellent instruction and reaching all students, without forcing class-size increases.

The CMS teachers piloting these reach-extension roles earn pay supplements of up to $23,000, approximately a 50 percent increase above average teacher pay in North Carolina. Last spring, Project L.I.F.T. was flooded with 708 applications for the 19 new reach-extension teaching positions in the pilot schools, where some teaching jobs previously went unfilled. Subsequently, 50 district schools expressed interest in joining the initiative.

You know we’re excited about this work. But what about the teachers? Romain Bertrand, a multi-classroom leader at Ranson Middle School, one of the four L.I.F.T. schools to implement the new models, asked for permission last winter to start his role half a year early—and moved his school’s math program from negative student growth to the fourth-highest growth in the district. “The key moment for me was to put the three pieces of the puzzle together—strong teachers, developing teachers, and students—and to see how all parts could benefit,” he said in an interview. “Then I knew—this should be something exciting for everyone.”

He was prescient when he said in that interview, eight months ago, “My dream is that we actually do such a good job with this that in a year or two, CMS will want to replicate this idea everywhere else.”

Kristin Cubbage, a multi-classroom leader at Ashley Park Elementary, another of the L.I.F.T. schools, told The Charlotte Observer today: “I have loved this job. It really is kind of a dream job in education.” (Watch Kristin’s video at the end of the article to hear her enthusiasm! And see and listen to more coverage here, here, and here.)

What if all our nation’s schools could offer “dream jobs in education”? Charlotte schools are dreaming big—with dreams firmly rooted in reality. Change of this magnitude isn’t easy, but teachers are embracing the change and leading the charge. Could your school district dream this big, too? Will you give teachers the chance to make their profession what they, and our nation’s children, need it to be?

—Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

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