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Best public-school investment: Teachers

Since becoming a principal in the early 1990s, I have known that the great teachers in my schools are my secret weapons. It was clear then, as it is now, that nothing is more important to student achievement than what happens when a teacher closes the classroom door. National research — on what contributes most significantly to the improvement of student achievement — supports my personal experience.

That’s why Charleston County School District (CCSD) is committed to investing time and resources to offer our educators the support and growth opportunities they need to become excellent. All educators must continue to develop our own professional skill sets because our society, including our students, brings us new challenges every day.

CCSD had the good fortune recently to be awarded a highly competitive Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant. Our grant was awarded based on CCSD’s overall progress with student performance and our efforts focused on increasing the effectiveness of our educators. This funding allows us to enhance our work in the area of teacher and principal professional development. This grant also provides funding to help us develop new and more sophisticated approaches to how we measure educator effectiveness. Improving our effectiveness will help us deliver on the goals outlined in our strategic plan, Charleston Achieving Excellence: Vision 2016.

The work we have undertaken is now called BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a framework that connects the district’s efforts to attract, develop, support, and recognize effective principals and teachers. It is not a brand new initiative, but rather a road map that connects the district’s multiple efforts to attract, develop, support, and recognize effective principals, teachers, and staff.

Our vision for improving educator effectiveness is comprehensive. First, we must create a fair and balanced evaluation system — a system built on multiple, reliable measures, and one that provides educators with effective feedback on how to improve. Second, we must offer personalized learning opportunities to accelerate educators’ professional growth. Professional development cannot continue to be delivered through a “one size fits all” approach. And third, we must recognize and celebrate the educators who are positively impacting our students’ growth. The funding in the grant enables us to financially reward top performing educators, even during the pilot phase while the evaluation tool is still being tested and refined.

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In both our grant proposal and during the first (pilot) year, we have been seeking to engage our educators, especially teachers, in developing the BRIDGE framework. It is important to me, and to CCSD senior leadership, that this work is being done by our educators, for our educators. With the input and expertise of all stakeholders, we will ensure that the new tools are both fair and beneficial to all parties.

This year, we will pilot the framework with 14 of our schools. These schools have learned the components of this pilot evaluation, they are using a new online professional development system accessed through our human capital data management system, and they will be part of a new performance-based compensation system. Educators in these schools will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the pilot work — what is working well and what needs to be improved — before it is implemented district-wide in the future. It is important to underscore that teachers who are involved in the pilot will not be treated any differently in terms of our state required evaluation. We will continue to use the ADEPT evaluation for all annual records.

While some of this work is new, some of it has been in existence for years. We know that incorporating measures of student achievement into the evaluation protocols for principals and teachers is a significant change from our past practices. However, we know “accountability for results” is now an accepted condition in all professions, and last year, our principals joined me in having student achievement become a part of their annual evaluation.

CCSD educators are committed to making sure that every school is led by an effective principal and every student is taught by an effective teacher. We remain unwavering in our work to make excellence the standard for all. Join our district, our principals, and our teachers in doing what’s best for all students.

I encourage the entire community to learn more about BRIDGE by visiting http://www.ccsdschools.com/BRIDGE.

Nancy McGinley is superintendent of the Charleston County School District.

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