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$2 million grant gives teachers new options

Chalkboard Project grant will help Sherwood School District retain highly qualified educators
by: Kelly Moyer, A CLASS ACT — John Niebergall, left, is one of several Sherwood teachers who helped plan the school district's new CLASS Project. Here, Niebergall  and student teacher Travis Morgan, middle, joke with Sherwood High School student Cody Dix, right. The CLASS Project seeks to reward highly motivated teachers and classified employees by offering them mentorship opportunities and a pay scale that reflects their willingness and ability to coach their peers.

A $2.25 million grant from the Chalkboard Project is changing the way teachers in Sherwood operate.

The grant money, which will be split with Tillamook School District and doled out over a three-year period, will offer an accelerated pay scale to highly qualified Sherwood teachers who agree to mentor new teachers or who help coach peers on their lesson evaluation plans.

'The signature component to this grant is a huge investment in professional development,' said Dan Jamison, superintendent of the Sherwood School District.

Because the local district has grown so much over the past decade, Sherwood has one of the youngest set of educators in the state. Helping those teachers and classified employees further their careers is crucial, Jamison said.

The new grant will pay for something Sherwood administrators call a 'skip step' pay model. Instead of teachers moving through the pay scale based solely on education and seniority, the skip step model allows them to bump into a higher pay range by mentoring peers and assisting with lesson evaluations.

It is a model that has helped Sherwood retain its teachers while other districts experience high turnover among their newest educators.

'The CLASS grant attracts young teachers to the district,' Jamison said.

And the model Sherwood has set up with the skip step pay scale ensures that the CLASS Project will be sustainable even after the initial three-year grant money is gone, Jamison said.

'We made sure that this is a sustainable model,' Jamison explained. With the skip step model, teachers may skip over a pay range, but they will eventually top out at the same rate they would have if they'd taken the traditional route and moved up in pay based solely on seniority and education levels.

What this model does is essentially bump a new teacher into a higher pay scale at a more advanced rate early in his or her career, but only if that teacher or classified employee is motivated and able to coach and mentor others.

Terrel Smith, Sherwood teachers' union president, says the extra incentive 'makes teachers excited about teaching and students excited about learning.'

'This is a true transformation in our profession,' Smith says.

Sue Hildick, president of the 4-year-old Chalkboard Project, says the grant program, which funds the CLASS Project in Sherwood and Tillamook districts, 'gives teachers and staff a whole new way of building their professional careers.'

Typically, highly qualified teachers had to wait for seniority or jump into administrative roles and leave the classrooms behind before they could become peer leaders and increase their salary levels. Meanwhile, new teachers in Oregon also were struggling, with more than a third of new educators leaving the profession within the first five years of teaching. Under the CLASS Project system, qualified teaches will be rewarded for mentoring and coaching new teachers, giving experienced teachers a new career path option and allows new teachers to have a better connection to their more experienced peers.

Last year, Sherwood became one of three districts to receive planning grants from the Chalkboard Project to develop the CLASS (creative leadership and student success) Project.

Over the course of the year, Sherwood administrators, teachers, school staff, parents and community members developed its own CLASS program to expand educators' career options, boost teachers' leadership skills and provide teachers with extra financial incentives for excellence in the classroom.

The district team will decide how to award individual teachers, but the goal of the project is clear - Sherwood wants to raise student achievement by recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers.

'To attract and retain highly qualified educators, we must make teacher career paths and compensation options more attractive,' states the district's Web page on the CLASS Project. 'We must make sure great teachers have the chance to move up the career ladder to peer leadership positions based on their performance and not their seniority.'

The Chalkboard Project, a program developed four years ago to boost Oregon's K-12 public education system and maintain a higher level of financial accountability in the K-12 system, announced April 18 that Sherwood and Tillamook will receive the three-year, $2.25 million grant.

The Chalkboard Project is reviewing a grant proposal from the Forest Grove School District, which was one of the three chosen last year for the pilot program and where teachers and administrators are designing their own unique CLASS Project.

Randy Schild, superintendent of the Tillamook School District, says the grant program is a perfect fit for his rural school district.

'It means we're going to be better able to recruit and retain highly effective teachers in small towns like ours,' Schild says.

For more information about Sherwood's CLASS Project, or to see a list of the CLASS Project's local steering committee, visit www.sherwood.k12.or.us and click on 'CLASS Project' in the list of options on the right side of the page.