TEACHER RAISE II: Three key changes tied to a 15% increase that can improve teaching and learning

A near-universal belief unites teachers, district leaders, and community members across West County: Solving WCCUSD’s teacher retention crisis means offering teachers a significant raise.

This is great news for our teachers, many of whom stretch to afford the rising cost of living in West Contra Costa. It could become great news for students, too, if negotiations can achieve a win not only for teacher pay, but also for improvements to district practice that can drive teacher retention by improving school climate and culture.

Seizing their moment, United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) proposed a watershed raise of 14% that would help ensure that WCCUSD can effectively compete with salaries offered at nearby districts.

A raise of this magnitude is no small order: To free up an estimated $31 million within a structurally balanced budget will require dramatic cuts to existing programs, personnel and student services.

But rather than pushing back, the district pushed forward.

Seeing an opportunity to make this raise count for kids far into the future, the superintendent and district negotiators countered by expanding the offer — to 15% total — in hopes of securing commitments from UTR that recognize the importance of relevant and ongoing professional growth for teachers, site-level autonomy in building an effective instructional team, and a teacher evaluation system that is beneficial, not burdensome.

UTR members must now consider the district’s 15% raise proposal which, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, would require three significant contract changes aimed at improving district-wide teaching and learning:

  1. Committing to the equivalent of four additional paid days that would expand time for teacher professional development and collaboration
  2. Removing seniority as a factor in hiring decisions when considering teacher transfer requests, and reducing the number of transfer rounds from two to one
  3. Revamping the current evaluation system that administrators use to track teacher performance, and including increased accountability for teacher attendance

To reasonably ask UTR members to consider these changes, the district must clearly show how and why these specific changes can remedy persistent school climate issues that drive chronic teacher turnover, disrupt school culture, and diminish student academic performance.

UTR President Demetrio Gonzalez (left) discusses teacher compensation and retention with the WCCUSD Board. 

 

PROPOSED CHANGES WILL STRENGTHEN WCCUSD’S LONG TERM SUCCESS

Increased paid professional development

As part of the overall salary increase, the district has asked UTR members to accept a 5% increase (a minimum of about $2,500/year for starting teachers) in exchange for the equivalent of four more paid professional development (PD) days focused on refining and strengthening their craft.

As WCCUSD adopts Common Core standards, pivots from wilful defiance suspensions to trauma-informed restorative justice, deploys an expensive 1-to-1 technology initiative, and uses data to hone daily instruction, well-designed PD will strengthen teachers’ practice in these and other areas that demand continuing professional growth.  This, we hope, will improve academic achievement and classroom culture for kids across the district.   

Understandably, money alone is unlikely to convince UTR members that these days are worthwhile. Given the district’s underwhelming track record with PD, the superintendent and the board must commit to structural and personnel changes that signal a genuine desire to improve the quality and impact of its professional development program.

WCC teachers consistently call for site-based PD that is designed and delivered by experienced teachers and highly-skilled instructional coaches. Teachers want to learn from other educators with proven experience generating strong classroom engagement and measurable results. To ensure that teachers benefit from these sessions, the district must welcome their participation in the PD planning process, and ensure that top-tier educators lead the way.

Prior to a vote on this change, the district should sit down with a select group of teachers (veteran Instructional Learning Team members, for instance), to co-design a simple but thoughtful plan outlining effective formats and meaningful topics for any additional PD days. The co-designed PD plan should include a clear, coherent vision for teacher growth, and provide a realistic and achievable timeline for implementation in the Fall.

Empower site-level hiring and transfer decisions

Seniority-based hiring requirements currently block 19 WCCUSD principals from assembling an instructional team that best suits their schools’ specific needs. These requirements are among the obstacles the district faces in improving culture and climate, and raising student achievement. Because current rules let teachers with seniority select from the district’sopen positions at those schools, those school leaders are unable to ensure that new hires will be the best fit for an open role.

When school leaders have the discretion to attract the most effective and impactful teachers, both teacher retention and student achievement stand to increase. Eliminating seniority during a single transfer period would give principals the ability to select teachers they believe are the best possible fit for their site’s academic program and school culture.

In a district where both retention and achievement levels remain persistently low, a new agreement between WCCUSD and UTR must clear the way for site-level hiring and transfer decisions so that school leaders can build a cohesive, diverse, and impactful teaching team that fits their school’s needs and aligns with its mission and vision.

Co-design a robust teacher evaluation system

To help teachers become more effective, the district must overhaul its process for observation and evaluation.

It turns out that tying teacher observation and evaluation to high-stakes test scores alone generates little if any increased student achievement. In fact, such narrow evaluations may even exacerbate teacher turnover.

The district’s proposal calls for a thorough redesign of the administrative observation form, and asks teachers to participate in the revision process. This presents a rich opportunity to establish a process that gathers student feedback, test-score growth calculations, and observations of classroom practice. Combined, these measures offer a reliable picture of teacher performance that can benefit teachers and district personnel. UTR members should embrace the opportunity to co-design a meaningful evaluation process that leverages trusted evaluators who can offer timely, actionable feedback. If successful, this overhaul will improve teacher performance, strengthen the growth and retention of top-performing educators, and generate real growth among students.

Wisely, the district’s proposed revision would add teacher attendance to the mix of evaluation measures. This school year to date, the district has hired nearly 6,000 substitute teachers at a total cost approaching $800,000. Making matters worse, nearly 25% of the time schools requested a substitute, the district was unable to find one to hire. That means that nearly 1,800 sub requests have gone unfulfilled, forcing school personnel to cover the teacher’s absence. In addition to the monetary cost, the educators who fill these absences face a sizable burden. Reducing absenteeism will make a meaningful difference in school culture and student success, and should be a priority for both sides during these negotiations.

WCCUSD Superintendent Matt Duffy speaks during a school board study session about teacher retention.

 

A SHARED COMMITMENT TO LONG-TERM IMPROVEMENT

Education Matters strongly supports both the proposed 15% raise and the district’s proposed additions to its agreement with UTR members as long as the raise is attainable within a structurally balanced budget. If successful, these changes — focused on teaching and learning  — will structurally and systemically improve the culture and climate issues that are contributing to chronic teacher turnover and hampering student achievement. Both UTR members and district negotiators know that the district’s health and long-term success hinge on a mutually-beneficial agreement that focuses on raising educator retention and improving teaching and learning.

For West County students, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If the district’s roughly 29,000 students are to truly benefit from this negotiation over the coming decade, the professionals who serve them must commit to transformative decision-making that can move teaching and learning forward.


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