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Teacher training strains FWCS

Grant in limbo; need remains

A $15.3 million grant was a nice surprise for Fort Wayne Community Schools back in 2012.

It gave the district the opportunity to fund $3.4 million in stipends to the highest-performing teachers.

It helped offset the cost of training new teachers and providing professional development for current teachers.

It also helped provide support for the district’s lowest-performing teachers.

But once the dollars have been spent, there’s no wiggle room in the district’s general fund to make up the difference, and yet, the training will need to continue, officials said.

During a work session Monday, officials discussed plans for teacher training and a method for determining which teachers and schools need the most support.

In September 2012, FWCS was selected as one of 35 winners of the 2012 Teacher Incentive Fund Grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

Additional funds – for a total of $42 million over five years – could be available for the district, but future funding is contingent on congressional approval.

But regardless of what money might be available in the next three years, the most important part of the process is figuring out how to train teachers to prepare the next generation of educators without federal dollars, said Laura Cain, Director of Strategic Initiatives for FWCS.

“We’re going to have to move away from providing stipends and talk about building talent,” Cain said. “The No. 1 goal here is to provide support for the needs of our teachers.”

School board President Mark GiaQuinta said he’s concerned the process of evaluating teachers and determining what help they need is too heavy on data collecting and too light on teacher input.

State and federal requirements complicate the evaluations, as more emphasis is placed on test scores and achievement than teacher evaluations completed by building principals or classroom observations, Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.“We have teachers that might think the only way I can get a raise is if my kids score good on a test,” Robinson said. “And we don’t want it to be that way.”

Instead, the district will spend time building the trust of teachers so when a principal or district leader enters the classroom, it’s a learning moment and not a “big brother watching” moment, she said.

District leaders will continue to discuss teacher evaluations at future work sessions.

As part of the process, Robinson said the district plans to survey parents, students, teachers and staff to determine how pleased – or unhappy – they are with the education FWCS provides.

That survey is expected to be posted this month.