District leaders say Brunswick County schools are the first in the state to offer this type of professional development.
BRUNSWICK COUNTY – Schools in Brunswick County have a plan to pay teachers more and improve education across the county. And that involves putting teachers on the other side of the desk.
In August, BCS will host its first Teacher Academy, a week-long program open to over 800 teachers in the district. For a week, teachers will work in cohorts to reorganize their lesson plans in each subject, helping to ensure that students across Brunswick County receive the same quality education. Teachers will also discuss with administrators what it feels like to teach in local schools, to facilitate communication between all levels of the district hierarchy.
The icing on the cake: participating teachers benefit from an additional week’s salary.
“The whole idea is really to show teachers how much the district values them,” said Laurin-Paige Garza, a social science teacher at South Brunswick High School who helps design the academy. “Teachers are the experts in our district, and when brought together in a focused way, they are the ones who create the most value.”
District leaders say Brunswick County schools are the first in the state to offer this type of professional development to teachers on this scale. About 450 of the district’s teachers – nearly 60 percent – have enrolled.
“It’s really all about teacher satisfaction,” Deputy Superintendent Deanne Meadows said. “We think they will give a very positive response and next year we will have over 60% of teachers willing to participate because they have seen such a benefit.”
During the 2015-2016 school year, 16.3 percent of teachers at the Brunswick County school left their jobs.
The statewide average for teachers leaving a school district was 13 percent, while across the Cape Fear River in New Hanover County schools it was 12.2 percent.
Antoinette Barnhill, the district coach for English / language arts in college, is the other half of the team that designs the Teachers Academy with Garza. She said giving teachers the opportunity to collaborate lets them know they are valued, which will keep more teachers in the district.
“This is not a conference or traditional professional development,” Barnhill said. “Being able to be each other’s sounding boards… and celebrating the great things we do makes what we do in the classroom so much more fruitful. “
Another factor that can make or break a teacher’s decision to stay is salary.
In North Carolina, teachers whose positions are funded by the state are paid on a basis of 10 months, the duration of the school year. Meadows said BCS had for years been looking for ways to add an 11th month’s salary for teachers, which would cost around $ 4 million in local funds. In contrast, a week’s salary during Teacher Academy will cost around $ 600,000 – probably less because not all teachers have registered.
“We thank the community, the taxpayers and the (school) board for their willingness to let us try something,” Meadows said.
The Teacher Academy will operate for at least three years, according to a master plan. This year’s goals include educational equity – ensuring that students in different schools have the same opportunities – while by year three, Garza and Barnhill want to see new district-wide resources, such as as online lesson plans.
The academy will also allow teachers to improve their skills without interrupting lessons.
District leaders will monitor the academy’s impact with surveys of teachers, but also review student performance. Logic dictates that if teachers collaborate on lessons, educators who are brand new to Brunswick County will have the same tools as veteran teachers.
“Every lesson I developed was so much better when I was planning it with someone else,” Garza said. “When I create an articulate and well-explained plan for my class, the students benefit from it all. And it will be all the better if other teachers come together.”
Journalist Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]