Meeting Street Schools foots bill for massive incentive program

Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 5:19 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2022 at 7:21 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston teachers at seven struggling schools could take home huge bonuses this year.

Rolled out as a pilot program, the Excellence in Teaching Award would give teachers at several Acceleration Schools the opportunity to earn $30,000-$40,000 in bonuses. Acceleration Schools are an initiative from the Charleston County School District for schools they said have traditionally underperformed when it comes to student academic achievement.

“The Excellence in Teaching Awards are designed to reward reading and math teachers who are achieving 1.3,1.4, sometimes 2 years’ worth of academic growth in a single year,” Christopher Ruszkowski, CEO of Meeting Street Schools, said. “We believe that when those teachers, whether they are at burns or one of the acceleration schools, should have the opportunity to ear additional compensation when they’re getting that 1.5 or two years of growth with their students.”

The award is the brainchild of Meeting Street Schools. Ruszkowski says they have had it in place for the last two years with nearly 100 teachers across the four schools that they run in the state winning awards. He says this year they are bringing it to other schools in the district.

Meeting Street Schools is a nonprofit network of schools that has been partnering with the Charleston County School District since 2014. They currently operate the elementary schools at Brentwood and Burns.

The award is tied to student performance on MAP tests taken in the spring and fall. Ruszkowski says this money is designed to retain top-performing teachers, desperately needed in poor-performing schools.

“Especially in the highest need schools, it is a monstrous effort to go out and recruit, develop and retain teachers to the highest need schools,” Ruszkowski said. “The way teachers have been paid, particularly in the highest need schools, for a century, for many, many decades – that can’t be the way we continue to business. If we continue to do things the same way we have always done over the century, we are not going to see different results for our students.”

Schools eligible for the award are: Chicora Elementary, Hunley Park Elementary, Julian Mitchell Elementary, North Charleston Elementary, Pepperhill Elementary, Stono Park Elementary and W.B. Goodwin Elementary.

Critics, however, call this merit pay and question the intentions of Meeting Street Schools. Joy Brown is a parent and constituent board member in West Ashley now running for school board.

“My first thought was going back in the spring when teachers were getting fliers put in their boxes from Meeting Street Schools, just kind of saying, ‘you can earn an extra 100,000 dollars’ basically talking about incentive pay,” Brown said. “Every teacher I spoke with was horrified. They know incentive-based pay doesn’t work. They know it incentivizes testing and not learning.”

Brown also questions why the school board was never informed about this expanded partnership with Meeting Street Schools.

“If they have good motives, good intentions, why so secretive?” Brown asks. “Why not have it on a board meeting? Why is the board not involved in that decision? We are talking about a lot of money potentially being transferred between this private group and the public school district.”

Superintendent Don Kennedy says the Excellence in Teaching Award is just one of the many incentive programs the district offers teachers. He says there are opportunities for teachers to make more money in all 14 of the district’s Acceleration Schools. Those opportunities include whole school awards and awards for attendance.

“Within the teacher incentive programs that I am talking about are only for the Acceleration Schools,” Kennedy said. “In addition to teachers, there is a component through one of the programs where everybody at the school, not just teachers, 100 percent of the staff will have an opportunity if there’s growth to participate in financial growth.”

It is unclear if there are any financial incentives for teachers not included in the acceleration schools.

Meeting Street Schools is putting up the money for the Excellence in Teaching Awards. All of it is being provided through philanthropy.

Read more about how the Excellence in Teaching Award works here:

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