Last week I attended the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) Conference in Washington, D.C.  The Tennessee Department of Education (TDE) was awarded a TIF grant last year, which allowed districts to participate in creating alternative compensation plans for educators.  At that conference, I had the opportunity to meet with district administrators from around the country who for the past several years have been awarding incentive pay to teachers.  Though the Putnam County School System (PCSS) is on the cutting edge of salary reform in TN, as compared to many districts around the country, our district and state are in the infancy of salary reformation.

PCSS has had the unique opportunity to develop Strategic Compensation around several sources of revenue: TIF, Race to the Top local funds, and the Innovation Acceleration Fund competitive grant.  The combination of these revenues has allowed for a creative bonus and base alternative system created for classroom teachers. P.A.S.S. (Putnam’s Alternative Salary Schedule) offers bonus pay to educators for targeted professional development, higher education content courses and degrees, and mentor and master teacher roles.  Base pay acceleration is determined by teacher evaluation SCOREs.  Level 3 teachers (at expectation) earn an average step, while those at Level 4 and 5 will earn 1.5 or 2 times the average base pay increase.  Teachers hired prior to June 30 may “opt-in” to P.A.S.S. or stay on the current step and level pay system.  All teachers hired after July 1, are automatically included in the new alternative pay schedule.

Since June, our P.A.S.S. Coordinator has been on a messaging mission to share information about alternative compensation with our 850 teachers and leaders.  With recent State Board approval of the alternative salary schedule, the “opt-in” period begins with a deadline for year-one participation of September 30th.  With this plan, teachers are given choice to earn higher wages based on productivity and test results rather than a small standard increase for “one more year of service”.  The decision is difficult for our teachers as they weigh the risk of forgoing a standard earned increase.  But, for those teachers who are already going above and beyond teaching requirements, the choice becomes easier with the expectation that they will be rewarded appropriately for their efforts.

For many education stakeholders (teachers, administrators, Board, and funders) the conversation around differential compensation remains controversial.  I, as district leader, realize that I am stepping out of a comfort zone of teacher pay that has been in place for decades.  If this plan proves to make a difference in teacher quality, productivity, and student results, then I can rest assured that PCSS has once again moved from a status quo district to a district performing at a higher level and “doing what is right for kids.”