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Denver schools get nearly $30 million boost

Effective Denver teachers who choose to work with students in high-poverty schools and help their colleagues improve will earn a financial incentive beginning next year.

DPS officials today announced that DPS has received a five-year, $28.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support teachers at up to 91 schools.

The money will be spent on classroom support for teachers, along with evaluation and compensation systems. Known as the Teacher Incentive Fund, or TIF, the grant is among the $150 million in federal, local and state grants the district has received over the past four years. DPS joined a list of 35 districts, states and nonprofits awarded the latest TIF grants.

“This grant will be used to encourage and support and reward effective teachers who take positions in a high-needs school in the district,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at a news conference at Gust Elementary in Southwest Denver. “It will support teacher leaders. It will provide incentives for teachers.”

Boasberg was joined by Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, school board President Mary Seawell and Gust staff.

Gust Principal Jamie Roybal said the school’s enrollment has increased by 200 students – to a total of 680 students – in the past four years due in part to academic growth. The number of hard-to-serve students has grown by 4 percent.

“Gust Elementary has shown, over and over, high growth,” Roybal said. “Clearly, there is one reason for that and that is our teachers. We have teachers in this building who are very committed to working together collaboratively, committed to improving their practice and work to do that on a daily basis.”

Grant to pay for incentives, programs

Details of how the grant money will be spent are still being worked out, Boasberg said.

Boasberg did say the grant will build on existing district teacher support networks including the Leading Effective Academic Practice teacher or LEAP evaluation program, the Learn2Lead initiatives to develop strong school leaders, the Teacher Leadership Academy and a $22.6 million TIF grant the district received in 2006 to support ProComp, Denver’s performance-based teacher pay system.

In addition, the 2012 TIF grant is expected to help guide the future development of performance-based compensation by allowing the district to pilot and assess incentives that have the greatest impact on student achievement.

Roman said teachers need support systems and to be around better teachers so they can improve. He offered up a personal anecdote about a game he happens to love.

“I love the game of chess,” Roman said. “Before I got this job, I used to play it a lot … It’s a humbling game. There is always someone better than you. One of the reasons I got better was because of the avenues of support and effective feedback, and access to resources. That’s what teachers need.”

Roman said he was humbled to be in the presence of two of Gust’s top teachers.

“I know how hard you work,” Roman said.

Fifth-grade teacher leader Kyler Albert said the grant money will definitely help teachers at Gust.

“We are striving to introduce the Common Core state standards in our classrooms,” Albert said. “We meet together as teacher leaders to talk about new standards. We meet together as a data team to discuss how to meet these standards. This funding makes it a little bit easier to spend those extra hours we need.”

Third-grade teacher Maggie Martin said she was proud to work at Gust.

“I work with excellent teachers,” Martin said. “Their practice improves my practice. I am always going home thinking about how to improve a lesson or how to use another colleague’s advice or how to use feedback from LEAP.”

Martin said you won’t find a closed classroom door at Gust – literally.

“Our classroom doors are always open,” she said.

“That is so symbolic of the work happening here. We believe in watching each other, learning and stealing good ideas.”

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