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School system putting grant dollars to good use

More than a year ago, the Butler County Board of Education received a $7 million grant called PerformancePLUS to provide teacher incentives and increase professional development countywide.

Now, Litta Norris, program director of the incentive program, is attempting to put that $7 million to good use over a five-year period.

“There were five core elements within the grant application and if you had a plan for it but didn’t have it in place yet, you were given a planning year,” Norris said. “So our first year of the grant, we were actually in a planning year to finalize a couple of our components.”

The grant allows incentives and additional bonuses for employees, especially teachers, who put in more time and have proven to be affective, Norris said.

“We had funding from the state several years ago to pilot an incentive program so we did,” Norris said. “We wrote this program based on the guidelines the state gave us. We had the funding for two years and then the funding was just removed because of budget cuts.”

When the federal money came to Butler County, Norris worked on expanding the original program and providing teachers with incentives to get paid for unclocked hours.

“The teacher incentive fund is basically federal money that is put toward funding these programs that are designed to approve the effectiveness of principals and teachers and to try and change the way educators are paid to make it comparable to other jobs that require degrees,” Norris said. “Teaching is one of the few professions that you’re putting in hours all of the time.  How many people in another job will put in 10 to 20 hours and not get paid for it and do it every week? In most jobs, you are compensated if you work harder than someone else, put in more hours or you are more affective. In teaching, that is not the case.”

The point of the incentive program is to allow teachers to connect with students through mentoring programs and extra curricular activities, as well as work on individual professional development to enhance every student’s learning experience, Norris said.

“A lot of time it’s perceived from the outside world that teachers go into it for altruistic reasons and those are things you should be doing,” Norris said. “That’s true, but there’s so much that teachers have to do and so many hours that they put in that good people move away from the teaching profession because it’s so many hours and you’re not getting paid for all of the hours you’re putting in.”

One major development teachers and school systems have seen in Butler County is the implementation of the Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. Norris said these practices are based on research that shows the program leading to student achievement.

With the federal money, the guidelines are much more stringent than the original program. Some of those guidelines include showing data, tying that data to teachers and students and showing the effectiveness of the program.

“It’s enabling us to pay for things because of budget cuts in the state that we weren’t able to do before,” Norris said.

The program has also allowed funding for release time for teacher to do professional development and paying teachers to present professional development.

“If they have gone to a training and they come back and they have to put time in investing in a presentation, we pay them for that,” Norris said.

As for the future, Norris hopes to continue to apply for grants and find funding to keep this program going.

“We’re looking at contacting the state for possible funding, looking at different areas and probably applying for the next round of the funding.”