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Hierarchy allows teachers to advance

The School Board got its first look Tuesday at a proposed hierarchy for teachers that could provide the district's most qualified and involved instructors an opportunity to share their knowledge with their peers, work a longer school year and receive annual pay supplements from $4,000 to $7,000.

For Citrus County, the total cost could run $586,000 for supplements and another $740,000 to hire more teachers to replace instructors who would be working with other teachers or with small groups of low-achieving students, according to a draft plan presented to the board.

By law, Citrus and every other school district in Florida must submit a Career Ladder proposal by March 1. The ladder proposal creates four levels of teachers; each level comes with its own requirements and responsibilities.

District administrators and officials from the Citrus County Education Association have been scrambling to assemble such a plan with a short timeline and little definitive direction from the Florida Department of Education.

The law requires districts to implement the Career Ladder beginning with the 2004-05 school year. But local officials said they have no idea whether they will get extra funding from the state to pay the added costs, which could climb into the millions including staff training and support from the district staff.

Under the ladder proposal, associate teachers, who do not have a professional certificate or have been evaluated as low-performing, and professional teachers, who are certified, are the first two categories. Currently all Citrus teachers are in one of those categories.

The proposal would add lead teachers and mentor teachers to that list. They would be characterized by higher educational qualifications, more training, leadership activities and proof of their students' learning gains. For those teachers chosen to be at the lead or mentor level, the commitment would include working two extra hours per week and 10 extra days each summer.

For their work in leadership positions and helping low-performing students and struggling teachers, they would receive the extra compensation from working the longer school year, which officials said amounted to an average of about $1,000. That is in addition to a supplement of $4,000 for a lead teacher and $7,000 for a mentor teacher.

The current proposal includes a target of having from one to five lead teachers and from one to three mentor teachers at each school based on the student population. The committee that designed the draft also made contingencies for fewer lead and mentor teachers in case the program is not financed by the Legislature.

Ultimately the career ladder plan must be approved by both the School Board and the teachers. Officials said those approvals will be sought next month.

The detailed report of the draft plan prompted questions by School Board members about what benefits the plan might bring the district.

Current teachers will not be hurt by the plan, but those who want to advance themselves will have more opportunities, according to Tom Curry, director of curriculum and instruction.

"It has the potential to help us in some areas . . . if it's funded and we can apply it to the things that will help with what we're doing," he said. "I think we've got to have some flexibility."

Sandra Armstrong, executive director for the Citrus County Education Association, said the jury is still out on whether the plan is a good idea or not. It might identify just the teachers who are already going above and beyond their regular duties. But it also might offer the expertise of those teachers to help other teachers who need help.

"Who knows whether it helps or hurts?" she said.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendtsptimes.com.

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