Jeremiah Davila already finds himself staying after school every day. If he’s lucky, he may soon get paid to do so.
Davila, who works at Engineering & Science University Magnet School (ESUMS), is one of 102 public-school teachers who applied for a new position called “super tutor.”
“Super tutor” is of three new jobs New Haven has created in an effort to professionalize the 1,800-person teaching workforce and give teachers an opportunity to take on extra responsibilities with up to $5,000 in extra pay. The new positions will be paid for by a $53 million, five-year grant from the federal government’s Teacher Incentive Fund.
In addition to those hoping to become super tutors, 132 teachers put in applications to become “curriculum facilitators.” And 52 teachers sent in new applications to add to the ranks of “teacher facilitators,” new position created last fall. The jobs are open to teachers who scored “effective” or higher (a 3 on a 5-point scale) on their teacher evaluations; the deadline to apply has passed.
The positions aim to change the longstanding system by which teachers get paid solely based on seniority and education degrees, said Superintendent Garth Harries. Until recently, teachers had no way to advance in the profession without leaving the classroom to become administrators.
The new jobs aim to expand teachers’ pay and responsibilities “so the best teachers are willing to stay in the profession,” Harries said. They changes were made possible by the recent ratification of a new teachers contract that continues the course of the city’s school reform drive.
Meanwhile, some teachers have refused to send in applications due to objections with the program.
Davila and his colleague Brian MacWilliam (pictured above) were among at least a half-dozen teachers from ESUMS who responded to the district’s call for applications for “super tutors.” It requires staying after school to tutor groups of six to eight students. The district is offering qualifying teachers $2,500 to do the job for the rest of this school year (50 hours of tutoring) and $5,000 for next school year (100 hours of tutoring).
Davila said when he looked at the offer, he didn’t want to take on any extra responsibilities. He already teaches 86 sophomores and juniors in chemistry and AP chemistry, in addition to running the science Olympiad and the school’s submissions to the citywide science fair. The school day at ESUMS, a magnet school serving grades 6 to 11 in a swing space on Hamden’s Leeder Hill Road, ends at 2 p.m. Davila said he stays after school until 5 p.m. each day to informally tutor students. That includes his regular students, as well as students as young as 6th and 7th grade.
“He’s already doing the super tutor [duties], he’s just not getting paid for it,” MacWilliam said of his colleague.
MacWilliam, who’s in his sixth year as a teacher, said he used to stay long hours after school. Now he runs home to see his wife and two kids at their home in East Haven before heading back to school—not ESUMS, but Southern Connecticut State University, where he’s earning his master’s degree.
MacWilliam, who teaches 70 students in physical chemistry and physics, jumped at the opportunity to take on more tutoring and make a few extra dollars.
“I love tutoring in small groups,” said MacWilliam. “You see the light bulb click on” in students’ minds. Students feel more comfortable asking questions, and the teacher has a better understanding for what they’re struggling with and how to help them, he said.
The extra money won’t hurt either, MacWilliam said. He is supporting his wife and two kids on his $51,745 salary. They own a home in East Haven.
“I’m not in debt. The ends meet,” he said, but “it’s a challenge.” He has never been compensated for extra duties he has taken on, such as serving as lead teacher for the 11th-grade team.
Davila, meanwhile, has been tutoring chemistry students at the University of Connecticut to earn a few extra dollars and stay in touch with the type of science taught in colleges. Before he got into teaching, he worked in hydrogen cell research for United Technologies Corporation. He said he took a $30,000 pay cut when he entered the teaching profession. Now, in his fourth year teaching, he now makes $45,357.
A Bigger “Sphere Of Influence”
Davila said if he lands the “super tutor” position, he would expand the ranks of the kids he is already tutoring voluntarily after school. He said the kids who stay after school tend to be “self-motivated.” He and MacWilliam said they would like to figure out which kids have the greatest gaps in skills and invite them to do the extra tutoring.
Some students get tripped up because they are missing math skills, such as solving for X or figuring out the slope of a line.
“In the science realm, most things come back to math,” said MacWilliam.
Davila and MacWilliam both pronounced themselves teachers for life.
“If you ask me what I want to do when I’m not teaching, it’s figuring out how to teach something,” Davila confessed. Davila, who grew up in Bristol and now lives in Rocky Hill, said his students think he’s “nuts” and has no social life. The 32-year-old said he has no kids and his wife works until 7 p.m., so he doesn’t have to be home until then anyway. And he loves the job.
“This is a joy,” said Davila. “I got bored in industry. I never get bored here. This is a constant challenge.”
The school district has not decided how many of the 102 applicants it will take on as “super tutors,” according to spokeswoman Abbe Smith. The final number “depends on the applications received.”
It’s not clear exactly whom the super-tutors would work with: Superintendent Harries said the idea is to have teachers take on kids they aren’t already teaching, so that they expand their “sphere of influence.” But that notion was not included in the job description.
Transportation may be one concern: School buses don’t serve students who stay late after school. Those kids have to get picked up by their families or find other ways home. Schools usually offer CT Transit passes so kids can take the public bus home. The CT Transit bus does stop right outside ESUMS, but students who live in surrounding towns, such as East or West Haven, may face a long ride home on public transit. (The school accepts students from New Haven and surrounding suburbs.)
In addition to the unknown number of “super tutors,” the district is creating an unknown number of “curriculum facilitator” positions. In addition to teaching their normal course loads, these teachers will work with curriculum supervisors to come up with ways to train teachers on how to implement standards, including the Common Core State Standards, in the classroom. Like the super tutors, the curriculum facilitators will be paid $2,500 for the rest of this academic year and $5,000 for next year.
The district is also planning to expand its group of “teacher facilitators” who are now running professional development groups on a topic of their own choice. The teachers attended a leadership boot camp last summer, then began work in the fall. With the help of a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the district aims to expand the group of facilitators from 52 to 300 in two years.
The district also received 80 “open applications” from teachers to apply for stipends of up to $5,000 with their own proposals.
It also opened up 21 spots for administrators to attend a nine-month leadership training called the Yancy Forum.
Successful applicants will be “selected based on qualitative and quantitative data,” according to the district.
Some teachers, meanwhile, refused to apply for the new jobs.
“I cannot support a program that divides our school communities,” wrote Chris Willems, a science teacher at Metropolitan Business Academy, in a note under a petition posted online.
Willems and a group of teachers that calls themselves the New Haven Educators Collective posted the petition online last month with a cartoon of educators elbowing each other, and trampling children, to grab a few extra bucks from Uncle Sam.
“We pledge not to apply to merit pay positions,” the petition reads.
Thirty-one people signed the petition, including supporters from around the state; four of the publicly listed names appear to be New Haven public school teachers.
The petition denounces New Haven for creating a system of “merit pay”—a characterization district leaders emphatically dispute.
The “merit pay” charge stems from the last teachers contract, which ended automatic raises for teachers who score less than “effective” on their evaluations. Teachers who score below a 3 on a 5-point scale will have to do up to 10 hours of professional development before getting their raises (called “step increases”) the next year.
“The arrival of merit pay also coincides with a national push from the Obama Administration, which replaces supplemental funding to state’s education budgets with Race to the Top, a competitive federal grant program that incentivizes states to battle for a finite pool of money—part of an overall attack on public schools and their unions,” the petition reads.
“Some may believe that educators should be compensated based on their effectiveness in the classroom but all workers have the right to expect a stable salary. Additionally, merit pay has not been proven to be an effective means of improving public education. Merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork; it corrupts the culture of a school,” their petition continues.
Harries and Union President Dave Cicarella, meanwhile, have argued that New Haven’s contract is nothing like “merit pay” as that word is used nationally. Washington, D.C. drew controversy for creating a merit-play plan that awards bonuses to the highest-ranked educators based solely on job evaluations. At least five states—Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, and Utah—also tie teacher pay directly to evaluations, according to a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
“We’re not interested in merit pay—getting paid for test scores,” Harries said. “But we do think folks who have an expanded impact should have expanded compensation.”
New Haven is not awarding teachers simply for boosting kids’ test scores; it is offering extra money only to teachers who take on extra roles, Harries and Cicarella argue.
Teachers’ petition further argues that creating stipended positions will divide the workforce.
Teacher Jen Drury, who works at Career High School, said she is “boycotting” the new positions.
“There are hundreds of teachers who already willingly give their time and energy after school,” Drury wrote in the petition. “Financial incentives will diminish that. People will eventually come to believe, ‘Well, they don’t pay ME to stay after school’ and they will stop staying after school,” she predicted.
“We must not be swayed by the ‘lucrative’ opportunities for ‘upward-mobility,’” Drury wrote. “All the grassroots [teachers] have gone way of middle managers. I am not a middle manager.”
“We know that teachers work way more than 6 1/2 hours a day,” Superintendent Harries later responded. “Teachers work long, hard hours outside of the school day to make sure their students succeed.” He said the new positions aim to honor extra work with extra pay and extra accountability. And by paying teachers to work on curriculum and teachers training, Harries argued, New Haven aims to empower teachers to guide the city’s school reform effort from the “bottom up.”