PUBLISHED: 4:59 PM on Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Principal's report stresses growth
Mendenhall River Community School
No school in the Juneau School District achieved recognition in Alaska's new Performance Incentive Program, an initiative that pays educators for growth in student achievement. However, Mendenhall River School came very, very close, falling just 1.05 points shy of the acknowledgment mark.

In a brightly decorated conference room, Principal Patricia Newman enthusiastically shared the results of her school's first year in the program.

  Patricia Newman
"I'm really proud of our students and staff," said Newman. "While we didn't reach the score needed, we showed significant growth. The cut off point obscures the bigger picture - Mendenhall River students are making great gains. It's exciting to see so much growth."

The Performance Incentive Plan is a three-year pilot program initiated by the Alaska Legislature to advance student achievement statewide. By offering personal cash bonuses to entire schools staffs lawmakers hope to create stronger learning environments and enhance academic success.

The payments aren't just for certified teachers, they are for all members of a school's staff. Even district employees are eligible for awards when their schools achieve recognition.

Calculating a school's score is complicated. The formula measures the change in student performance in three subjects - math, reading, and writing - over the course of a year. In elementary schools, students in grades 3 through 5 are tested every April, and their scores compared with their previous year's assessment to judge their level of proficiency. The goal of the program is to move students up the proficiency scale. Schools whose students show better than expected academic growth, or who maintain an advanced level of performance, are eligible for the payout. Awards range from $2,500 to $5,500 for certified teachers and from $1,000 to $2,500 for support staff. The greater the achievement the higher the award.

A review of statewide program statistics shows that Mendenhall River Community School students ranked 46th in overall growth out of 492 other Alaska schools, of all sizes. Educators at the top 42 schools earned the cash bonuses.

Newman attributes the school's solid performance to a great staff, not the cash incentive.

"The teachers are here because they want to be. Everyone's working so hard. It's not the money, it's the teachers."

She also believes that Launching Literacy, a school-wide initiative designed to advance student reading and writing, contributed to the growth. Reading Specialist Kelley Harvey agrees.

"The program has given us new intervention tools. It has helped us target specific reading problems with specific solutions - to individualize our instruction. It has also given our teachers the chance to work together and share ideas."

Now, as the school year begins, Newman is optimistic about the future. Mendenhall River benefited from the district's efforts to reduce class size this year. The addition of another fulltime classroom teacher has allowed the school to substantially reduce the size of its kindergarten, first and second grade classes. Many educators believe that small class sizes assist student performance.

"Change is hard, it's not an easy thing. But our teachers have done a tremendous job. They are willing to learn new strategies, develop new curricula, try new techniques and integrate it all into their classrooms. It's their dedication that is helping our students," Newman said.