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A New Teacher Salary: $125,000 per Year! (page 2)

A New Teacher Salary: $125,000 per Year!

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Updated on Nov 10, 2009

If you’re thinking that these well-paid teachers will be teaching well-to-do pupils, think again. The school is in Washington Heights, an area of primarily low-income immigrants from the Dominican Republic. And while students haven’t been chosen yet, TEP expects to have a school population of about 88% Latinos and 9% African Americans, with 20-30% being English language learners and 10% special needs. The middle school will focus on at-risk students, and give them a healthy dose of standard fare like English, math, science, and social studies, but also require every student to take Latin and music, because while many schools across the country have scrapped arts and language for more “core” subjects, studies show that Latin and music boost SAT scores. (Plus, giving students no choice in the electives they take keeps costs down. Important, with most of TEP’s budget going to teacher salaries.)

Whether or not teacher pay alone will be enough to boost student achievement, only time will tell. But there’s no question that the education community is going to be watching this New York experiment with eagle eyes.

With class size at a hefty 30 students per teacher, many educators question whether TEP’s teachers, superstars though they may be, will be able to give each student enough attention. Nancy Van Meter, a Deputy Director at the American Federation of Teachers says “High paying salaries are terrific for teachers and we certainly welcome the TEP emphasis on paying teachers high salaries, but we also think that there are other important aspects needed for strong schools. We hope that in the process of planning for their school, they’re including funds for other reforms and innovations that complement high salaries”.  Translation: just paying the big bucks may not be enough.

Bradley Goodman, who’s been working for the New York City Department of Education for 9 years, first as a teacher, then as a staff developer, and starting in September as an Assistant Principal, agrees, “I have concerns that this model is neither replicable nor sustainable.  Clearly, all of the troubled schools in New York City cannot double teachers' salaries.  We should be developing ways to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers to work in all of the schools in Washington Heights, and in all of the public schools that the 1.1 million kids in New York City go to.”

Zeke Vanderhoek, Principal and Founder of TEP, knows he has his critics, but he's taking what they say in stride. “In general the feedback’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “There are always going to be people who don’t like changes to the status quo. We’ve certainly got people who question whether we’re going to have enough support staff or whether we should be spending our budget on other areas. All of those are valid concerns and we’ve thought seriously about them in the planning stages.” Still, he says, nothing that TEP does, or says they’re going to do, is written in stone. “The school is in no way a static entity, and we’re going to learn as we grow. Any good organization evolves and adjusts as it sees what works and what doesn’t work.”

Vanderhoek hopes TEP can be a model for other schools, and not just charter schools, but public ones as well. He’s trying to make the planning stages “as transparent as possible”, putting the budget up on TEP's website for download, speaking freely during the planning process, and encouraging other schools to replicate his model.

Will TEP get it right from the get-go? Probably not. But as someone who spent his time in the teaching trenches and “fell in love with education reform in general, and middle schoolers in particular,” Vanderhoek has experienced first-hand plenty of what doesn’t work, and he’s ready to ruffle some feathers in an aim for change. TEP's critics are sure to keep on buzzing. But that's okay, Vanderhoek says, “I love a challenge."

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