By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

Several years ago, Bend-La Pine Schools began work on a new system for teacher training and compensation. Though still evolving, the system has begun to push teachers to focus on relevant professional improvement while providing enhanced mentorship and a quicker trip up the district salary ladder.

The system, called PASS for Professional Advancement and Support System, currently includes about 100 of Bend-La Pine Schools’ approximately 1,000 teachers, according to Lora Nordquist, the district’s assistant superintendent. Other teachers are on the more traditional pay schedule and system.

“The old system, which exists in most districts in the country, is really based completely on inputs,” Nordquist said. “So in other words, you take these classes, you take 15 credits, and you make a jump on the pay scale, rather than any evidence base that that affects your practice in a positive way as a teacher.”

In that more traditional system, the district’s human resources department must approve credits teachers earn to move up on the pay scale. This creates an incentive for teachers to choose classes with the greatest value to them personally, Nordquist points out, as teachers are spending the time and money on them. But the credits don’t necessarily have to be aligned to a teacher’s content area or grade level. Credit-generating classes could simply cover a subject a teacher is interested in, Nordquist said.

By contrast, the PASS system encourages teachers to “select meaningful professional development that’s aligned with their goals, as well as the district vision and goals,” according to Michele Oakes, Bend-La Pine’s teacher mentor program coordinator.

Oakes, Nordquist and dozens of teachers in the district have built PASS over the past several years. But“we’re still creating it,” Oakes said.

While the development of PASS started in 2011, not until the 2014-15 school year were all of the district’s first-year teachers required to start in that system. Second- and third-year teachers also have the choice to start in PASS.

To ascend the pay scale under the PASS system, teachers must submit work to review panels made up of two peers and an administrator who work for other schools within the district. Panelists go through training before reviewing work. The review for early-career teachers involves performance in three areas. Panelists review video footage of teachers conducting lessons, consider student work and assess a research project.

“Just because you’ve taken the most credits and you’ve been in the career the longest, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the most highly skilled teachers in the district,” Nordquist said. “So we tried to build a system that really did require some outcomes, some demonstrations of proficiency, particularly at the early-career educator piece.”

In Bend-La Pine, PASS is also meant to increase financial incentives for teachers to remain in the profession. A “top-end” teacher, who has reached the top of the pay scale at more than $70,000 a year, is receiving “a fairly good level of compensation,” Nordquist said. But because teachers start at about $40,000 per year, it can take a long time for teachers to get there, she said. PASS can help speed up that process for teachers willing to put in the time to prove they are ready for the next level.

“When we did some of the research we thought, related to other professions that require about the same amount of education, it wasn’t the end point that looks so different, it was those early years,” Nordquist said. “So how do we move people up the system more quickly, if they’re really demonstrating high levels of proficiency? Not that new teachers aren’t putting in the effort, but that there was a way to move faster if you were motivated to do that.”

Teachers who aren’t approved for the next level following a review can resubmit their work, or the portion on which they didn’t score well, the following year.

PASS also provides dedicated mentorship, in the form of a few teachers on special assignment who don’t have their own classes. Mentors are available to provide on-the-job guidance.

“There’s nothing wrong with the teacher next door telling you how to get ready for parent conferences, or what the code is for the copy machine, but the full-release mentors, they are in teachers’ classrooms,” Nordquist said.

In most school districts, where mentorship is often provided through a “buddy system,” veteran teachers who have their own classrooms to run can feel a great deal of extra pressure. New teachers may be reluctant to ask for help, Oakes said.

While other school districts may also be rethinking their compensation models, Bend-La Pine is still unlike districts in other ways.

“I would say that we are the only district that I know of that is doing this fully funded from general funds,” Oakes said. “Other districts who were dabbling in it, have the collaborative grants and different grant funds.”

This year, for the first time, Bend-La Pine received about $100,000 from a state mentor grant to go toward PASS, Nordquist said. But district general fund dollars will cover the rest of the cost this year and pay for PASS in other school years.

The next step of building PASS will focus on how teachers grow into upper levels of the PASS pay scale, Nordquist said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,