Signing bonuses eyed for teachers


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Seeking the best possible teachers to reverse low — and declining — student achievement, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools officials are offering signing bonuses of up to $2,500 to teachers who accept “hard-to-fill positions” in the classroom.

Hard-to-fill teaching positions are those ECPPS has the “greatest difficulty hiring appropriately licensed teachers” for and include secondary math and science (grades 6-12), special education, and elementary education (grades K-6), according to Steve Lassiter, ECPPS assistant superintendent for human resources and auxiliary services.

The plan is to offer bonuses in these hard-to-fill positions at the two “restart” schools in the district — Pasquotank Elementary and River Road Middle — and also across the district, Lassiter explained.

Two other schools in the district — P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle — are implementing the state-recognized transformation reform model this year. Both the restart and transformation models have been recommended by state education officials for improving student achievement and raising test scores at continuously low-performing schools.

The two models offer varying degrees of flexibility in budgeting and other aspects of school management.

Lassiter said the signing bonuses that will be offered will range from $1,000 to $2,500. The district has only about $15,000 to set aside for the bonuses in its budget.

In comments to the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education on Monday, Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County Branch of the NAACP, mentioned that Central Elementary School didn’t have a fifth-grade math teacher last year. Rivers had asked at the time whether that might have a negative impact on students’ math performance at River Road Middle School since they were students at Central last year.

Lassiter said in an email that although the math position at Central became vacant in October 2016, the school district was still able to have a certified math teacher in place at the school last year.

“The school made the decision to use a certified retired teacher in the position for the remainder of the year,” he said.

The school district has used similar strategies when faced with other, year-long vacancies in high school math, Lassiter acknowledged.

“Our district has enrolled students in online virtual school options where high-quality online courses are taught by a certified North Carolina teacher,” Lassiter said. “We have also had retired certified teachers return to the classroom to provide instruction to our students.”

The school board approved improvement plans for both the district and six low-performing schools on Monday. In addition to signing bonuses and efforts to reduce turnover in teaching positions, the plans emphasize collaboration among teachers and regular monitoring of classroom instruction by administrators.

The improvement plans are required because ECPPS received a “low-performing school district” designation this fall from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The district received the designation because students at half its schools failed to perform at grade level on state testing during the 2016-17 school year.

Because it’s considered a “low-peforming” district, ECPPS is required to submit a district improvement plan to state education officials in December. In addition, Central Elementary, J.C. Sawyer Elementary, P.W. Moore Elementary, Pasquotank Elementary, Elizabeth City Middle School and River Road Middle School — the six schools deemed “low performing” — are also required to submit improvement plans for state review.

Although ECPPS has has low-performing schools for some time, this year’s state report was the first time it had been designated as a low-performing district. In addition, P.W. Moore Elementary received a grade of “F,” which had not occurred previously at any of the district’s schools.