Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar and Benton school districts receive first round of state teacher grants

Cedar Rapids schools will use grant for 614 new positions

The Cedar Rapids Community School District is at the head of the class.

The second-largest school district in the state earned first place for its application to receive a share of $50 million in Teacher Leadership and Compensation System grant dollars from the Iowa Department of Education. A news release from the department announced the receiving districts, which will each get almost $309 per pupil, Monday morning.

Alongside Linn-Mar and Benton, Cedar Rapids is one of three Grant Wood Area Education Agency school districts among the 39 statewide recipients of funds to improve instruction in Iowa schools. Cedar Rapids’ application garnered 89 out of 100 possible points, leading the state. The Linn-Mar Community School District earned 81 points while Benton Community School District’s submission received 79.

Members of the department’s Commission on Teacher Leadership and Compensation – which included administrators, teachers and parents – scored the applications and education department Director Brad Buck made the final selections, taking location and student enrollment into account.

Ryan Wise, deputy director of the division of policy and communications for the Iowa Department of Education, said that Cedar Rapids’ score indicates high overall achievement for its application but that the district’s plan is by no means one size fits all.

“I would say that Cedar Rapids is one of 39 standard bearers. All of the districts have plans that are effectively tailored to their local contexts,” he said. “I think you’re going to see plans look different in different places. What works in Cedar Rapids may not work as effectively across the state. What we hope for today is that there are lots of examples that work for districts across Iowa.”

Cedar Rapids administrators anticipate receiving $5 million for 2014-15 – the first of three years for the statewide phased launch – for its plan, which includes 882 full- and part-time teacher leaders who will perform in coaching, building-based support and curriculum, technology and professional development roles.

Cedar Rapids already has 268 paid teacher leaders and Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske said Monday that the 614 new positions will be filled by their district peers.

“The funds that the state is providing will help us move forward on a vision of teacher leadership that we’ve had for a long time,” she said. “That vision is supporting teacher leadership and really having instructional skills and that collaborative approach with their colleagues. … The research tells us that ultimately increases or enhances student learning when you have people working collaboratively with that goal.”

Cedar Rapids is in the budgeting process for the 2015 fiscal year, and Maske said these grant dollars will make a difference, though the specifics are unknown for now.

“We were anxiously awaiting the information about this funding to do our budget planning. We will still need to make some reductions but this will definitely impact the amount of reductions we have to make,” she said. “We are so excited to get the funds and now we can begin having those conversations.”

The grant dollars can be used for creating teacher leadership positions and opportunities, improving existing teacher leadership systems, professional development and raising minimum instructor salaries to $33,500, a requirement for all districts that receive the funds.

All of Iowa’s 346 public school districts, with 146 submitting for entry in 2014-15, applied for planning grants to enter the system which is set to expand to include all interested districts by 2016-17. Each year more districts and another $50 million in funding will be added. Once a district’s plan is accepted, it remains in the system and receives money moving forward.

“There’s funding available for everyone but it is not mandated that they come in. We hope that every district will develop a teacher leadership and compensation plan that meets that high quality bar,” Wise said. “I think we are very comfortable with the way the legislation was structured to make sure this is as sustainable as possible.”

Benton Superintendent Gary Zittergruen said his district’s plan includes six full-time teacher leadership roles, 22 or 23 model teachers and four instructional coaches divided between the elementary, middle- and high-school levels.

Benton does not currently have instructional coaches and acknowledged the pressure involved with being one of the 39 districts selected for the first round.

“We’re going to have to demonstrate and show that this is a good direction for the state of Iowa,” he said. “There’s some pressure there but it’s a good kind of pressure. We see a lot of benefits moving forward. … Why not be on the front edge of that?”

Linn-Mar’s plan includes 116 full- and part-time positions including technology integration coaches and various facilitators and leaders. Superintendent Katie Mulholland said that she’s hoping over 200 of the district’s instructors apply for these positions. Administrators will have to hire to replace the employees who have to leave their classrooms for those full-time roles.

“We’re hoping at least half of our teachers will indicate an interest,” she said. “We’re excited but we know we will be working 12 hour days to make this happen.”

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