Phoenix—Five Maricopa County school districts set out on a mission five years ago to improve educator effectiveness and increase student achievement. Today those districts are demonstrating positive results and have a defined vision moving forward.
In 2010, Maricopa County Education Service Agency was awarded a Teacher Incentive Fund grant by the U.S. Department of Education to implement the Rewarding Excellence in Instruction and Leadership (REIL) initiative in five county school districts.
Prior to her district’s participation in the REIL initiative, Tolleson Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hightower recalls a feeling of disenchantment when she learned that most of the nation’s teachers were rated as effective while student achievement was chronically low.
“Changing a system is a monumental task and it requires a brave group of leaders committed to making a difference for future generations,” said Maricopa County Assistant Superintendent of Human Capital Management Systems Dr. Lori Renfro. “We have those brave leaders in the REIL alliance and they will continue to improve the instructional environment in our county’s schools."
When Hightower learned about the REIL initiative she strongly supported making the transition in her district.
“We knew that with this partnership that we would be working collaboratively to develop these instruments and there would be a lot of support systems,” Hightower said. “We felt it was the right match.”
The first few years were challenging but Hightower felt the need for change outweighed the difficulty of implementing new measures in order to guarantee her students benefit from effective instruction.
“We are doing this because we want students to achieve high academic excellence,” Hightower said. “That’s why we do the work that we do. That’s our mission.”
In the Nadaburg School District, Superintendent Ben Goodman also recognized the need for a new direction in his district and was equally prepared for the challenge.
“When the grant first started here, there was some initial resistance because it was such a drastic departure from the traditional method of evaluating teachers,” Goodman said.
Goodman feels that teachers in his district have truly benefited from the clear expectations established by the Learning Observation Instrument (LOI), a rigorous evaluation tool that establishes a new level of fairness by bringing transparency to the evaluation system.
“We can pretty clearly document that there is a relationship between the LOI scores and student achievement,” Goodman said. “As the LOI scores go up, student performance is going up. There seems to be a direct correlation.”
The Tolleson District has witnessed the same measured growth. Sheely Farms Elementary School was honored with the Silver Level Award from the Beat the Odds Institute this year for demonstrating student achievement and the district has seen significant growth in its rating from the Arizona Department of Education.
“We haven’t achieved A-rated schools yet, but we definitely have increased achievement and we’ve moved from C to B-rated schools,” Hightower said.
Educators have also benefited from customized professional development and clearly defined career paths and incentives. Districts participating in the REIL initiative can see a brighter future for both educators and students.
“I know that it has changed practice for the principals, it has changed practice for the teachers, and it has changed the conversation for the teachers,” Hightower said.
REIL alliance districts are committed to sustaining the progress they’ve made and intend to continue to implement the elements of the initiative. Partner districts have also signed on for a possible 1-year, no-cost extension pending approval from the U.S. Department of Education.
In addition, MCESA professionals continue their mission to improve educator effectiveness with seven other county school districts participating in the Rewarding Excellence in Instruction and Leadership, The Next Generation (REIL-TNG) initiative, which began in 2012.
For more information about the REIL or REIL-TNG initiatives, visit the Rewarding Excellence in Instruction and Leadership website.