TAMPA – This school year, Anne Chatfield left her teaching job at A-rated Randall Middle School to transfer to a school that needs all the help it can get.
Deemed a D school by the Florida Department of Education, Sligh Middle poses challenges different from those at Randall: a high share of students from poor families, as well as students with academic and behavior issues.
Chatfield says there’s nowhere she would rather be.
“In this particular school, it takes a bulldog tenacity and a huge heart,” said Chatfield, who works as the school’s dropout-prevention specialist. “I absolutely love working here. I will not go anywhere else.”
Now, school district officials are challenging more teachers like Chatfield, those who received the highest marks on their evaluations, to consider switching to a high-needs school.
These are schools with hard-to-fill vacancies, many with poor student achievement and high poverty rates.
The challenge comes all the way from the top.
Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia recently sent a letter to teachers deemed “highly effective” on their evaluations for the 2012-13 school year – approximately 37 percent of 15,500 in the district – asking them to consider transferring.
“I am asking teachers to consider getting out of their comfort zone to teach at a school where the challenges are great,” Elia wrote. “There are children and families at those schools who need you. We can do more. And we must.”
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Among the high-needs schools are the 152 schools that receive federal Title 1 funding, which is doled out to campuses where at least 75 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price meals.
Fifty of them are county Renaissance schools, where at least 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free meals. Most of these schools received a C grade or lower from the Florida Department of Education.
Out of the 755 vacancies posted on the district’s website, about 65 percent are at Title 1 or Renaissance schools.
“We’re talking about schools that need highly effective teachers to move their achievement forward,” said Tracy Schatzberg, the district’s director of assessment and performance management.
Hillsborough teachers’ evaluations are based 40 percent on their students’ standardized test scores. The rest comes from observations by principals and peer evaluators.
This is the second year Elia has reached out to teachers to try to drum up more interest in transferring. This year, the message came the week before the district’s transfer period for teachers began on Monday.
Last year’s letter was how Chatfield heard that there was such a big need for good teachers at these schools.
“This was my time to work with a population that may need me more,” she said.
At Sligh, 2011 E. Sligh Ave., 96 percent of the nearly 700 students are eligible for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. Last school year, just 18 percent of the seventh-graders passed the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and 28 percent passed the math test.
Chatfield spent 10 years as a classroom teacher before moving to the district level, where she was responsible for the district’s nontraditional programs, including alternative education, alternative to out-of-school suspension and programs for teen parents. She missed working with children so much that she went back to teaching six years ago.
Now, as a dropout-prevention specialist, she works with Sligh’s 200 students who have repeated a grade at least once. She subs for teachers when they are out and observes classes. She was instrumental in starting the Sligh’s optional Saturday school program, attended regularly by about 25 students.
Chatfield said she got off to a rocky start with some students – many didn’t trust or respect her because she was a stranger.
She remembers one student who was so disrespectful that it was “over the top.” After a visit to the girl’s apartment, everything changed.
“That one home visit got me so much street cred at this school,” Chatfield said. “She was stunned that I did it. She loved me to death because I showed her that I cared.”
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Chatfield recently started a Beta Club at Sligh, as well as a chapter of the National Junior Honor Society, for students who have a grade point average of at least 3.5. On Friday, she told a group of sixth-graders they are being inducted into the clubs.
The students listened with excitement as she told them about a trip to Tallahassee they will get to take next school year.
“A big part of dropout prevention is to encourage kids to be excited about being high academic achievers,” she said.
There are incentives for those who take Elia up on her challenge.
For example, highly effective teachers who transfer to one of Hillsborough’s 30 schools that receive money from a special grant will receive a $1,000 bonus at the beginning of the school year. They will receive a second bonus worth as much as $3,700, or 10 percent of a starting teacher’s salary if rated highly effective again at evaluation time, and another $2,000 if they stay at the school for a second year.
The grant is the district’s third under the Performance Outcomes with Effective Rewards program. It’s worth $60 million over five years. Sixty-four highly effective teachers transferred to one of these schools for this school year, Schatzberg said.
“Ultimately, making $5,000 more isn’t necessarily going to keep a teacher at a school,” she said “We want them to realize how rewarding it is.”