City teachers set to start new roles to be more effective

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Eighty-five teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools will be the first to fill "career ladder" positions aimed at strengthening the quality of instruction in the district.

When the board and the teachers union agreed to a new five-year contract last year, the agreement established several career ladder positions that provide extra pay for extra time and responsibilities.

Later this month, the school board is expected to approve the selection of 85 teachers who will fill the first three career ladder positions this fall: Promise Readiness Corps members, who will receive $9,300 a year extra; Clinical Resident Instructors, who will work in the Teacher Academy, $13,300 a year extra; and Learning Environment Specialists, $9,300 a year extra.

The additional pay amounts to $910,000, which will be paid by two federal grants.

"This is the front edge of the reforms," said Jody Spolar. chief human resources officer.

Applications for the positions came from 296 teachers, some applying for more than one position. The selection process involved an application, an in-person interview and a classroom observation.

John Tarka, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, "I think the three career ladders address three very important areas. Certainly the Promise Readiness Corps is designed to help students who we know in our district can be at the greatest risk and need the most attention.

"I think the Teacher Academy and the Clinical Resident Instructors are very important professional recognition that classroom teachers can provide tremendous help to new teachers. ...

"The whole idea of Learning Environment Specialists is a key issue. I've often said that teachers can be most effective and students can learn best in environments which are safe and orderly."

The largest group is the 48 teachers of the Promise Readiness Corps, who will work in teams, each team teaching a group of ninth-graders this fall and then teaching the same students the following year.

In addition to teaching the students' core academic classes, the teams will address individual student needs and help to ensure that the students make a successful transition to high school. The name of the corps refers to the Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program open to all city school students who meet certain academic and attendance standards.

The Promise Readiness Corps will be staffed at Allderdice, Brashear, Carrick, Langley and Oliver. Plans initially called for a corps at Perry as well, but the district did not receive the mix of applications needed. Instead, a different school reform model -- using strategies developed by Perry teachers -- will be tried at Perry.

The strategy of "looping" -- with ninth-grade teachers following students to 10th-grade -- has some logistical challenges, including the fact that ninth-grade teachers who are certified in biology may not be certified to teach chemistry in 10th grade.

As the first Promise Readiness Corps moves on to 10th grade, additional teachers will be recruited for fall 2012. The following year, the first corps members will return to ninth grade, with the newer corps members continuing on to 10th grade.

In addition to the 48 named to the corps, 12 others have accepted hybrid roles of Promise Readiness Corps members and Clinical Resident Instructors. They will receive only the extra pay of Clinical Resident Instructors.

In addition to the 12 in the hybrid roles, 18 other Clinical Resident Instructors will work at Pittsburgh Brashear or Pittsburgh King PreK-8.

Those two schools will serve as the Teacher Academy where new, uncertified teachers will be trained and earn certificates, and experienced teachers will visit to hone their skills.

There also are seven Learning Environment Specialists who will work to see that the school climates are conducive to teaching and learning. These specialists will work in Brashear, Faison, King, Langley, Oliver, Perry and Westinghouse.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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