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History of Performance Pay

Pay for Performance was not an entirely new idea in the Douglas County School District (DCSD). While the new system presently being built is revolutionary in many ways, it is being formed in the tradition of innovation and excellence that Douglas County became known for back in the 1990s.

DCSD was one of the first school districts in the nation to take on Pay for Performance. Much like today, change back then was spurred by necessity. In 1992, the District struggled with the challenges of an economic downturn and the failure of a bond and mill override election.

“As in the present times, it was difficult,” explained DCSD Development and Innovation Officer Pat McGraw. “The District was growing incredibly fast. The funding we had was not adequate to compensate teachers in the way they deserved.”

A committee made of teachers, District leaders and community members was formed to explore better ways to reward great teachers. Together, they created a system that set high, but clearly defined goals, while providing employees with the professional development they would need to reach those goals. It was a groundbreaking concept at the time.

“There wasn’t a lot out there to build from to be honest, but we came up with some foundational ideas,” McGraw said.

At first, the team developed skill blocks, then group incentives and eventually outstanding and master teachers scales.

For more than two decades the system served its purpose, but another economic crisis four years ago forced a change in priorities. The program was suspended four years ago in order to avoid furloughs for all District employees.

As Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee explains, building an entirely new system provides a great opportunity for Douglas County teachers. The plan is to use the best parts of the old system, while also including significant improvements, like market-based pay and a new teacher evaluation system.

“We want to change the focus of Pay for Performance. We want to tie how the work the teacher does outside of the classroom on professional development or on developing lesson plans impacts student learning in the classroom,” McMinimee said.

While the old system goal may have been to improve student learning, there was not an effort to make sure educators were actually becoming more efficient in teaching. For instance, McMinimee says the portfolio project allowed teachers to highlight their best projects, but did not require the teachers to show that students learned better because of the extra effort.

The new system is expected to provide teachers an opportunity to be rewarded for actually improving student learning, without having to do extra work.