First in a Series

By Mike Whittlesey

In 2012, the question posed to the Union Community Schools District Leadership Team, a committee consisting of school board members, clergy, parents, teachers and school administrators, was a simple one: “If we can do anything to improve the quality of education for our students, what would it be?”
At the time, the committee was learning about a piece of legislation designed to make significant changes in how the state of Iowa would compensate its teachers. The Teacher and Leadership Compensation (TLC) System, a four year process initiated in 2013 by the State Legislature, promised competitive starting salaries to attract new teachers, the reward of leadership opportunities and higher pay for effective teachers, and opportunities for teachers to learn from each other through increased collaboration.
The State Department of Education was clear about the importance of raising teacher pay and increasing collaboration. The Teacher and Leadership Compensation System was based on the philosophy that improving student learning requires improving the instruction they receive each day. The best way to do this, the Department reasoned, is to empower outstanding teachers to lead the way.
As members of Union’s District Leadership Team studied the proposed system, they learned that planning grants would become available in 2013, with the goal of having each of the state’s 346 school districts voluntarily participating by the 2016-17 school year. Each year, the legislature would allocate $50 million to fund the system, up to a total of $150 million by the fourth year (2016-17), enabling all school districts in the state to participate.
After several meetings and careful consideration, Union submitted an application to the State Department of Education, where their plan was evaluated and approved by the Commission on Educator Leadership and Compensation in January 2015. Soon, the school district would have additional resources to embark upon a multi-year journey of professional development, one that would seek to implement the state’s TLC system in Dysart and La Porte City. With an approved plan in place and a $375,000 grant to help fund it, the district began the important work of implementing its plan. As outlined by the state, the following five elements were required:

  • Minimum salary of $33,500
  • New teachers receive additional coaching, mentoring and opportunities for observing instructional practice\
  • Multiple, different and meaningful leadership roles for teachers
  • Rigorous selection process used to determine teacher leadership roles
  • A professional development program that is aligned with the Iowa Professional Development Model

With the grant stipulating the district make a good faith effort to utilize at least 25 percent of the teachers already on staff to serve in some form of leadership capacity, one of the biggest challenges for the district was to determine which teachers would be assigned new leadership roles. The new positions included Instructional Strategists, a Technology Integrationist, Instructional Coaches, Mentor Teachers and Special Program Coordinators.
After a rigorous selection and interview process early in 2015, Union selected Michelle Keegan, second grade teacher at Dysart-Geneseo Elementary and Corindy Stoakes, first grade teacher at La Porte City Elementary as the district’s K-12 Instructional Strategists. Union High School Business/Computer instructor, Dale Wambold, was selected as the district’s K-12 Technology Integrationist. These newly created, full-time positions outside the classroom allow the three to work directly with teachers throughout the district, observing, collaborating, mentoring and coaching, spearheading the effort to improve classroom instruction. Along with the teachers in each building serving as the district’s Instructional Coaches, Mentor Teachers and Special Program Coordinators, these educators comprise the Teacher Leadership Team for Union Community Schools.
With the dawn of a new school year in August 2015, this new team set about the challenging work of improving the quality of education students in each of the district’s four schools receive.

Next Week: Meet the Instructional Strategists and Technology Integrationist for Union Community Schools and learn about the work being done throughout the district as staff members collaborate with one another to enhance student learning.

Read Part II