San Juan School District in southeastern Utah has a new approach for retaining highly effective teachers: Pay them as much as administrators.
The district itself is expansive, covering more than 10% of Utah geographically. And the southern portion overlaps with the northernmost part of the Navajo Nation.
It’s there, at the high-poverty schools on the reservation, that the district has struggled with teacher retention. But that’s changing.
Three years ago at Montezuma Creek Elementary a new “lead teacher” position was created in order to incentivize teachers to stay. It's already made a big impact.
“One thing that we’ve noticed is that our test scores have improved over the past three years and particularly the student growth scores have improved tremendously," says Jenny Atcitty, one of the four leader teachers at Montezuma Creek.
Atcitty's new role is part teacher, part administrator. She oversees a fourth of the teachers at her school and assists the principal in other ways. Which makes it possible for her to teach 6th grade full-time and advance her career.
“I don’t think that any of us have aspirations to become an administrator," says Atcitty. I think there are a lot of people who move into administration because that is the only way to make more money.”
Atcitty and her fellow lead teachers are paid over $80,000 a year, which is on par with an administrator salary.
Ron Nielson, the Elementary Supervisor at San Juan, says that's the point.
“We’ll be able to keep some very successful, strong teachers in the classroom," Neilson says. "Ironically, there is a chance that our lead teachers could make more money than the building administrators.”
Nielson says the district plans to expand this lead teacher program to all the southern schools in their district. Not all of them will make $80,000 a year but they will be compensated according to their years of experience plus an additional $12,000.
The district is looking inside their boundaries and country-wide for strong teachers willing to put roots down in these school communities. And for that, they’re willing to pay.