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A third problem involves CMS's mentoring program.
Haigler says, "Mentors within the district provide support to new teachers and assist them with the skills needed to teach all children."
That may be what CMS intends, but as anyone familiar with the reality of teaching in Charlotte public schools knows, the mentoring program is widely regarded as less than effective, at best.
Former teacher Ron Eaddy says, "I feel that CMS is trying to help new teachers. A mentor is assigned to help each teacher, but often the mentor is from another grade and can't meet with the teacher during planning time, or be familiar with the particular subject area."
Nancy Holland, who has taught and mentored in different CMS schools including Independence, Eastway, Olympic, and Myers Park High, agrees. "It (the mentor program) does not work," she states. "It's just more paperwork and one more thing to worry about for new teachers."
The fourth, and potentially the biggest mistake in CMS's plan involves the school system using money as one of its primary tools to retain teachers. As part of its recruitment efforts, CMS offers new teachers monetary bonuses of $1,000-$2,500 if they sign contracts by June 15.
To retain teachers, CMS is planning on spilling $1,458,624 million dollars into the Milken Foundation's Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which establishes differentiated pay for levels of expertise. CMS officials also plan on paying for PRAXIS testing if it is completed by the 1st semester of teaching. While extra money and/or money-saving options would certainly help a struggling teacher, financial incentives aren't the kind of bait that will keep a teacher coming back for more. Teachers enter the profession because they have a love of learning or a genuine concern for young people. Not one teacher that I've ever talked to has said that more money could make them stay. Think about it. How many teachers do you hear talking about the BMW or the beach house they're going to buy one day?
We asked why the majority of CMS retention incentives are financial in nature, and Haigler replied, "Recruiting teachers is highly competitive. Many states surrounding North Carolina are able to offer a much higher level of pay to attract teachers. Therefore, our incentives to recruit teachers are financial in nature."
CMS's response missed the point of the question, which was about retention, not recruitment. Perhaps this reaffirms that the school leaders' focus is on getting and not keeping teachers.
What, then, is the answer? It wouldn't be fair to say that CMS should be doing what the 10 NC schools with the lowest turnover are doing. Those schools are significantly smaller, which means their problems can be handled more intimately and efficiently.
But it would be fair to suggest that CMS learn a lesson or two from Wake County, the second largest in the state. The Wake system's turnover rate was 89th in the state, compared to Charlotte's ranking as having the state's ninth highest rate.
Staunch defenders of CMS might argue that Wake County retains more teachers because it's less urban and therefore sees fewer problem students. But that would be a fallacy. The reason Wake County is experiencing a 9.48 percent turnover rate while CMS can only dream of reaching 10 percent one day is that Wake officials not only acknowledge that their teachers are the key to success, they treat them that way.
CMS has tried to emulate Wake in the past by borrowing its grading system. It has also started a Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council like the one Wake Superintendent Bill McNeal began during the 2001-2002 school year. The key to their success, however, is that the Wake Board of Education is not only listening to its teachers, it's making real changes based upon their advice.
Through its work and the Board's willingness to offer change-making support, Wake's TAC was able to decrease the enormous amount of classroom level paperwork forced upon teachers and restructure the school day to give teachers more planning, networking, and teaming time.
CMS may offer higher salaries and have more teachers Nationally Board Certified, but, somehow, Wake County has achieved much lower teacher turnover. Which is more important?
Wake's commitment to valuing and respecting its teachers as true professionals is evident even in its budget proposal for the coming years. Superintendent McNeal has let it be known he is unwilling to cut money from raising teachers' salaries and keeping class sizes to a minimum, even if it means sacrificing some funds accorded to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.