What is a Distinguished School?

DPS believes a school should earn ?Distinguished? status based solely on test scores. DCTA advocates for a more holistic approach.


Continuing its efforts to negotiate a Compensation Agreement that provides predictability, stability and growth potential, the DCTA Bargaining Team again hammered away at the District?s insistence on focusing so strongly on test scores as a means to increase teacher compensation.


DCTA?s position advocates assigning more dollars to teacher base pay, limiting incentives and maximizing their impact by re-focusing incentives on a wider array of criteria. For example, DCTA argues that the Distinguished School status mandate of the ProComp ballot language should be assigned to fewer schools (10 has been proposed) by evaluating Whole Child programming efforts, bullying prevention initiatives, teacher retention, student evaluations and, yes, test scores ? as well as other critical attributes of success. The District continues to advocate for maintaining more or less a status quo approach of focusing solely on standardized testing.


While the District likes to tout their ?whole child? approach to parents and the community, the reality is that when it?s time to compensate teachers, the District puts its money where its values really are: in test scores. When asked what a ?distinguished school? looks like, spokesperson for the District, Michelle Berge, could not answer. At one point, she even tried to differentiate her feelings as a DPS parent and DPS employee! Why would those not be the same? Why would DPS not have the same vision for a distinguished school as the community that it serves?


Further, the District has not been able to provide any data that the current compensation system has had any effect on test scores, yet, they continue to stick to the same, tired stance that schools will be better if we reward teachers solely for how their students test. We believe that we should strive to create schools where students and teachers feel safe and included. Let?s reward making that happen.


?If we continue down the same pathway, we will continue to reward teachers in affluent schools over and over again,? said DCTA team member Lynne Valencia-Hernandez. ?We need to compensate teachers across the district every day. We need to put more money in base salary so that teachers can plan for their future.?


Other topics addressed during the session focused on compensation for so-called ?hard to serve? schools and ?hard to staff? positions. The concern, according to DCTA?s team, is that many financial incentives are neither helping teachers reach their fullest income potential nor serving to improve conditions for teachers and students in schools.


On the issue of teaching in ?hard-to-serve? schools, DCTA contends that the incentive providing increased compensation to teachers in these schools does not lead to higher teacher retention rates, even though the ballot language calls for ?hard-to-staff schools.? In fact, schools that have received the hard-to-staff incentive have had significantly lower retention rates over the last three years compared to the District average. Much more critical to teacher retention, the Association says, is how teachers are treated within these schools (and all schools). The DCTA team argued that the DPS incentive tends to scapegoat students as the problem when working conditions and the relationship with school administration are what matters most to professional educators.


?How teachers are treated in their building has a much larger effect on retention rates than the students,? said Corey Kern, deputy executive director for DCTA.


Ultimately, DPS needs a compensation system that retains teachers districtwide, DCTA argued. With a current exodus of roughly 1,000 teachers a year and the district?s reputation as being difficult for teachers, an expected teacher shortage for DPS is coming sooner rather than later.


?If we determine there are non-monetary things happening that are causing the retention issues in that school,? said DCTA team member Rob Gould, ?Should we create a retention compensation??


On a more positive note, both bargaining teams did agree to a continuation of the ?hard-to-staff? teacher compensation incentive in the new Compensation Agreement ? the first agreement made to date in negotiations and a significant step forward.


In the final discussion of the night, both sides began outlining potential options for reforming the district?s incentives for professional development. Proposals ranged from disconnecting PDUs as a driver of teacher base salary to altering how PDUs are incentivized. DCTA also proposed expanding the tuition/loan reimbursement program to cover $10,000 over 10 years.


?We have to encourage our teachers to seek out advanced degrees,? said Lynn Valencia-Hernandez, ?and we have to incentivize teachers to do that.?


Only two Compensation Agreement Bargaining Sessions remain, so be certain to attend the next session and make your voice heard! The next session is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26 from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at 1617 S. Acoma St in Denver.