Teaching Profession

Top Oakland Administrators To Receive Bonuses Tied to Test Scores

By Mark Stricherz — January 24, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The superintendent of the Oakland, Calif., schools continues to shake up the 54,000-student district.

Dennis Chaconas

In his latest move, Dennis Chaconas pushed through a plan this month to give top school administrators bonuses tied to test scores. Under the measure, approved 9-1 by the school board on Jan. 10, some 20 members of Mr. Chaconas’ “cabinet” will receive higher salaries, so long as students score higher on annual state tests.

While the administrators already will receive a 9 percent pay hike, they can earn up to an additional 3 percent raise—1 percent each for increases in reading, mathematics, and language arts. The highest-paid administrators would be eligible for as much as $3,400.

The pay plan follows other aggressive moves by Mr. Chaconas to tackle leadership problems.

Since taking his job last February, he has replaced a third of the district’s 90 principals, set new standards for principals’ job evaluations, and eliminated 12 top central-office positions.

In addition, Mr. Chaconas has required schools to use phonics to teach reading and pushed for teachers and other staff members to receive a 13 percent pay hike this school year.

The bonus pay initiative is viewed as a request to senior administrators to share responsibility for raising student achievement. “It’s kind of, put your money where your mouth is,” said Pete Yasitis, a deputy superintendent.

But the Oakland affiliate of the California Teachers Association opposed Mr. Chaconas’ merit-pay measure. Sheila M. Quintana, the president of the Oakland Education Association, which is also affiliated with the National Education Association, called the measure “egregious and wrong.”

“Our association is against high-stakes testing,” she said. “We know that test scores are tied to [family] income.”

Mayor’s Influence

The Oakland schools have been in flux since last March, when city voters approved a measure, sponsored by Mayor Jerry Brown, to add three members appointed by the mayor to the seven-member elected school board. (“Oakland Voters Give Brown Broader Say Over Schools,” March 15, 2000.)

Mr. Chaconas was hired, against the wishes of Mr. Brown, just before the governance change was approved.

“I think 90 percent of the time our agendas line up,” Mr. Chaconas said of his relations with Mayor Brown, “but the other times I’m going to fight for what I believe in.”

Both men appear to share similar values about improving school leadership: So far, they have sought to give themselves more authority to overhaul the district. Mr. Brown was unavailable for comment last week.

"[Mr. Chaconas] has really shaken up the Oakland school district in every way you can imagine,” said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University

A graduate of the city’s public schools, Mr. Chaconas, 53, served as a middle and high school principal in Oakland and later as an assistant superintendent of the district. In 1993, he became the superintendent of the nearby 10,800-student Alameda Unified district, where he was credited with helping to end a $4 million deficit and improving test scores.

When the Oakland superintendency opened up in 1999, Mr. Chaconas quickly applied. Though Mr. Brown backed another candidate, Mr. Chaconas got the nod. The job he faced could hardly have been more difficult, school observers say. Early last year, a state audit blasted the district for poor management and student performance and threatened a state takeover.

The new standards for principals, who work under one-year contracts, call for them to lose their jobs if their students don’t improve on a number of criteria, from attendance to test scores. Mr. Chaconas also evaluates principals on how much time they spend in classrooms, asking that at least two hours a day be devoted to monitoring instruction.

When 31 of the district’s principals didn’t measure up, Mr. Chaconas removed them. Some now run new schools in Oakland, while others have been replaced with principals recruited from other districts.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the superintendent’s actions, but cautioned they may have a downside.

“I think it’s frustrating to some of these school principals that they’re dealt a hand they can’t control,” Mr. Fuller said. “The big issue is that a large number of teachers are uncredentialed.”

Mr. Chaconas responds that he intends to decentralize power, but had to act in a top-down manner to get things started.

“We had 15 different reading programs, and none of them seemed to work,” he said, “but down the road, once we stabilize the system, if a school comes up with a different way to come up with decisions, that’s fine by me.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2001 edition of Education Week as Top Oakland Administrators To Receive Bonuses Tied to Test Scores

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What New Teachers Need
Ideas from the real world on making teachers' first years less overwhelming and more fulfilling.
5 min read
Illustration of a classroom diorama sitting on a student desk.
Illustration by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
Teaching Profession Opinion This Year Almost Drove Me Out of Teaching. The Right Leader Made Me Stay
After seven years teaching and one class away from becoming an education specialist, I have seen the highs and lows of education leadership.
Samantha Richardson
4 min read
Illustration of woman sitting on a mountain top looking into the distant landscape.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Maryland Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Prize
Keishia Thorpe received the prize for her work teaching immigrant and refugee students and helping them attend college.
2 min read
This photo provided by the Varkey Foundation shows Keishia Thorpe. The Maryland high school English teacher, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. The Varkey Foundation announced Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, that Thorpe, who teaches at International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County in Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.
Keishia Thorpe, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.
Varkey Foundation via AP
Teaching Profession Opinion Teachers Need Therapy. Their Schools Should Pay for It
You can’t have student mental well-being without investing in the adults around them, argues clinical psychologist Megan McCormick.
Megan McCormick
5 min read
Illustration of nurturing.
Laura Baker/Education Week and Ponomariova_Maria/iStock/Getty, DigitalVision Vectors