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Wake County, N.C., Announces Career-Ladder Plan for Teachers

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Raleigh, NC--Following the lead of Charlotte-Mecklenberg school officials, who three years ago began developing a career-ladder plan for teachers that is now cited nationally as a model for such programs, North Carolina's Wake County is aiming to become the second district in the state to offer its teachers a "professional development" program.

Proposed by Superintendent of Schools Walter L. Marks after extensive consultation within the school community, the program for the county's 3,000 teachers would establish five career levels and a give teachers a salary supplement of between 5 percent and 16 percent annually.

The proposal is the result of 18 months of work by committees of teachers, parents, and administrators, whose recommendations were then fashioned into the plan by Mr. Marks and his staff members. The plan, which must be voted on by the Wake County Board of Education before going into effect in 1986-87, would cost $5 million to $7 million in the first year.

Teacher Levels

"I think if we can pull off something with teachers, administrators, the board of education, and everyone else involved, it would probably be a first, and I think we may be pretty close to doing that," Mr. Marks has said.

The career levels would begin with apprentice teacher and move through career teacher, professional educator, senior edu and master educator. An apprentice teacher, one with less than three years' experience, would receive a 5-percent salary supplement, or between $683 and $747 per year at current levels. Starting salaries range from $13,660 to $14,940 for a teacher with two years' experience.

Master educators would receive a 16-percent salary supplement, or $3,148 above the top state salary of $19,680. The supplements would increase if the North Carolina General Assembly increases all teachers' salaries by about 15 percent this summer, as it is expected to do.

Under Mr. Marks' plan, the career program would be voluntary. Teachers who choose not to participate would receive a state salary plus a 7-percent supplement, as they do now. There would be no limit on the number of teachers who could participate in the new program.

Evaluation Process

Evaluations of teachers would be carried out by four separate committees, each including some of the system's best teachers. Using an entire school year, the committees would evaluate teacher candidates through classroom observations, interviews, the teacher's success in meeting his or her annual goals, and a careful reading of the teacher's professional portfolio, which would be a collection of the teacher's accomplishments and other information.

The new committees would add at least two new components to the existing evaluation process, which is now conducted solely by the principal. First, teachers in the career program are likely to be evaluatedrequently and the evaluations would be based on more specific criteria. Second, teachers will take part in the evaluation of their peers.

Both changes appeal to teachers in the district and to the Wake Association of Classroom Teachers, which represents about 2,200 of the county's 3,000 teachers. Teachers have long objected to "merit pay" plans that leave all evaluations to administrators. Mr. Marks said he recommended establishing the committees to minimize such objections.

The responsibility of selecting teachers for the program rests with the school board, which will base its decisions on the superintendent's recommendation.

Mr. Marks has met in recent weeks with representatives of the General Assembly, the teachers' group, and the school board to win support for the program. In the forward to the plan, he writes that higher pay and more responsibilities must be offered to local teachers so that the county's schoolchildren "will continue to be taught by professionals of the finest caliber."

Noninstructional Duties

Under the plan, teachers would be paid an as-yet unspecified amount for noninstructional duties such as the supervision of extracurricular activities, transportation, and the lunchroom. This supplement would be over and above the pay stipends provided for progressing up the ladder.

The proposed categories for teachers would include:

Apprentice teacher. Apprentice teachers would be chosen "in recognition of quality and potential." They would be required to participate in an "apprenticeship program," and would be assigned a "mentor teacher" who would "in every practical way help the new teacher become as fine a professional as he or she is capable of becoming and wishes to become."

An apprentice teacher could apply for advancement in the program after two years.

Career teacher. Career teachers would be awarded that status after three years by "virtue of demonstrated competence as a classroom teacher." A teacher may remain at this level for the remainder of his or her career, provided he or she maintains state certification and performs teaching duties adequately. A career teacher would work 10 months and receive a 10-percent salary supplement.

Professional educator. A teacher could reach that status after being employed in Wake County for four years, after demonstrating a "high level of competence as a teacher" and "effective leadership abilities," and after having made "specific con-tributions to the school." Professional educators would be employed for 10 months and would receive a 14-percent supplement.

The professional educator could act as a mentor to an apprentice and serve on an evaluation committee. After two years at this level, the teacher could be considered for advancement.

Senior educator. Senior educators would have at least seven years of experience and a "high level of performance," as well as an "ability to share his or her expertise with others, to solve instructional problems, and improve programs." The senior educator could serve as a department head or as the leader of a team of teachers.

Senior teachers would be under a 12-month contract and receive a 14-percent supplement. They would continue to have classroom responsibilities and would work with other teachers involved in the plan. Such teachers also would serve on an evaluation committee and contribute to summer instructional programs. They could apply for advancement to the next level after two years as a senior educator.

Master educator. "Designation as a master educator ... will represent not only the highest level of individual professional development, but a commitment to support the system's instructional program," the plan says. The master educator would evaluate other teachers and refine the school system's "programs, policies, and procedures." Employment would be for 12 months; the supplement would be 16 percent. Responsibilities for master educator would include those of the senior educator, plus an agreement to assist with the apprenticeship program.

Plan Wins Support

The plan has won praise from local teachers and school-board members. "I'm impressed," said Mary M. Gentry, chairman of the school board. "This has a great deal of merit. The time is ripe for us to go into some sort of merit program."

"People who work hard should be rewarded for it," she added. "Those who are not doing their part should be weeded out, and this plan should be able to do both."

Karen D. Garr, president of the Wake teachers' association, said, "There are many positive aspects to the plan. It is similar to a plan we developed in the fall, but there are still some things we want to work out." She said Mr. Marks told her that the plan had not been "set in concrete."

"We're taking him at his word, and I hope we'll still be able to make some changes. But in general, I'm very positive about the proposal.''

No date has been set for a vote by the school board on the proposal.

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