Student achievement rewarding for Pittsburgh teaching teams

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Forty-three educators in Pittsburgh Public Schools have reaped two kinds of rewards: Their students are doing better than expected, and the educators are getting bonuses of as much as $11,000 as a result.

The educators at Allderdice, Brashear and Carrick high schools received a total of $169,660 in bonuses -- 70 percent from federal funds and 30 percent from the district -- as a result of success in the Promise Readiness Corps, in which teachers work with the same students in grades 9 and 10.

The district started the PRC in hopes that colleagues working together, continuity and building stronger relationships with students and parents would make more students eligible for Pittsburgh Promise scholarships.

City students who earn a 2.5 grade-point average in high school and have 90 percent attendance are eligible for up to $40,000 for postsecondary education.

The teachers receiving bonuses taught mostly the same students in ninth grade in 2011-12 and 10th grade in 2012-13 in what is called looping.

The teams typically included English, math, social studies and science teachers as well as special education teachers, counselors and social workers. The science teachers do not loop unless they are certified in both biology and chemistry.

At all three schools, nearly all ninth- and 10th-graders are in the Promise Readiness Corps group. The program is continuing this year in those grade levels.

Awards varied by team and were pro-rated based on how much time the educator was assigned to a team.

The most successful teams were at Pittsburgh Allderdice where the average award for 24 members of three teams was $6,685.

Four Allderdice teachers on one team for two years earned $11,000 each: Holly Neely, Michele Papalia, Jonathan Parker and Nicolle Schmiedlin. Three other members of the same team earned $5,500 each because they were each on the team for just one year: Terri Alessio, Amy Galloway-Barr and John Milcic.

Another team at Allderdice earned bonuses as high as $10,300.

The awards for 11 educators on two teams at Carrick averaged $808.

At Brashear, two of three teams didn't earn a bonus. For the nine educators on one team that did, the average was $778.

While there was a corps pilot program, these are the first bonuses for members of teams that were assigned the same students for two years.

Josh Aderholt, director of strategic compensation for the district, said that teacher participation on the PRC is voluntary and some of the teams were incomplete, which may be a major reason for differences in student results.

"The level of fidelity we see to the PRC model at Allderdice is very, very strong," he said.

The teams were judged on student growth over two years on four measures: attendance, core course pass rate, the district's own curriculum-based assessments, and the PSAT, a preliminary college entrance exam.

The growth was measured using a value-added statistical model that looked at whether the student did better than expected.

PRC teachers work more days and hours -- including early morning team meetings four days a week -- than other teachers and receive $9,300 a year above the pay scale to compensate them for time and leadership.

The bonus, which reflects two years of effort, is on top of that.

At Allderdice High School, principal Melissa Friez said the PRC members "do a really good job of holding each other accountable, holding students accountable and working toward the same vision."

"It does allow for individualized attention and a lot of good relationship-building, which we feel is the key to success."

Each PRC team at Allderdice meets to talk about students' needs about a half hour before students arrive.

In the meetings, teachers learn how the students are doing in other classes, share strategies and find ways to help the students.

Each teacher has about 25 to 30 students in homeroom and meets regularly with them in an advisory session to talk about long-term goals or individually to meet their needs.

Those take place in the classrooms but during the teachers' and students' lunch period.

Allderdice English teacher Kayla Holjencin said the program "allows students to look at their teachers as someone who not only teaches them something but someone who is an advocate to be there to push them toward success."

Teachers also are expected to call and send messages home regularly to help establish relationships with parents as well.

Ms. Alessio, a biology teacher, said teachers can "intervene way quicker on any issues or problems that may arise because you're in constant communication with the teachers, the parents and the students."

With the looping, Ms. Neely said she got off to a faster start in geometry with the students she already had in Algebra 1.

"They were able to accomplish more. They were also able to gel as a group a little better. The discussions in math class got a lot richer," she said.

When the second school year began, English teacher Kayla Holjencin said, "I already knew the families. I already knew the students, their learning styles. They already understood all my routines and procedures. When they came in that second year, we were ready to go. I saw them grow both as people and as learners."

The PRC bonuses are the latest round of performance pay in the district.

In January, the district announced 57 principal bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $7,500. They totaled $114,979.

In February, the district announced achievement bonuses for 143 staff members totaling $524,570 at STAR schools, which stands for Students and Teachers Achieving Results. The three schools honored were Pittsburgh Whittier K-5 on Mount Washington; Sunnyside PreK-8 in Stanton Heights; and Conroy, a North Side school serving special needs children.

Their bonuses were up to $6,000 for teachers and other professionals and up to $2,000 for paraprofessionals and technical-clerical workers.

Combined, the monetary rewards programs for principals, STAR schools and Promise Readiness Corps resulted in 243 employees receiving bonuses of $809,209.

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

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