That ‘Bridge’ was to nowhere

Supt. Gerrita Postlewait and Board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats / Charleston County School District board meeting. File/Wade Spees/Staff Monday, March 21, 2016

Some teachers said from the start that the Bridge program to reward high-performance teachers was a bad idea.

But after the Charleston County School Board agreed to kill the program, some principals asked for it to be continued.

Despite the disappointment in spending money and time finding out that the Bridge wasn’t what the district’s students needed, the best course was probably somewhere in between: Give it a try and eliminate it if it didn’t pay off.

The Bridge was initiated three years ago under the direction of Superintendent Nancy McGinley and funded by a $23.7 million Teacher Incentive Fund federal grant. It was intended to encourage and retain excellent teachers by rewarding them financially for good performance.

Instead, teacher turnover increased at most of the pilot schools, and teachers weren’t motivated by the size of rewards, which ranged from $1,000 to $4,000.

Nationally, teachers have resisted the idea of evaluating teachers in part on how well their students progress. But others have said it makes sense to hold teachers accountable for their performance. Results of various programs have been mixed.

By deciding to stop the Bridge program, the district is giving up about $12 million from the federal government. But it will save money over the long term on what the district would ultimately pay to keep the program alive.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the money spent locally went to consultants, teacher coaches and evaluators. Only $614,900 of the $11.7 million spent went to reward teachers.

That raises the question of whether a different superintendent like the present one, Gerrita Postlewait, with a different management style than her predecessor might have had more success with the Bridge program or something akin to it.

But after three years, millions of dollars and poor results, the board made the right decision to follow her recommendation and end the program.

It’s time to give Dr. Postlewait permission to use some of her bag of educational tricks.

Too bad one of the first things she has to do is compensate for an $18 million shortfall that she inherited. But the fact that she is critically assessing programs — and eliminating those like the Bridge that haven’t worked — is an indication that she is using fiscal caution that the public should expect from a school superintendent.

And that approach will be necessary to get the district on firm footing so that Dr. Postlewait can go about the challenging business of improving education in Charleston County public schools.