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Tulsa education proposal draws new teachers

Tulsa, Jenks and Union Public Schools, in conjunction with Tulsa Technology Center, are in the process of building the “Teach. Live. T-Town.” proposal. It is aimed to fund new teacher incentives within the districts and would be proposed as a modification to Proposition 3 of the City of Tulsa’s Vision2025 plan.

For nearly $4 million a year, newly hired teachers, including recent graduates, could receive forgivable loans covering or offsetting costs associated with buying or renting a home. Other aspects of the initiative include teacher training and professional development.

“Expected outcomes include improved recruitment, retention and preparation of teachers, as well as improved graduation rates which greatly enhance the economic viability of our city,” said Melissa Abdo, of the Jenks Public Schools Board of Education.

The “Teach. Live. T-Town.” incentive is based on the Alliance for Excellent Education’s “Impact of High School Graduation Rates” and has a projected 13 percent increase in graduation rates, which projects more than $62 million created by fewer drop outs.

Incentives for new teachers are not readily available in Oklahoma. The state offers the Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program designed to recruit and retain teachers, but the incentive is not available to teachers until they complete five consecutive school years. Tulsa Public Schools is the only district in Tulsa to offer a school-funded one-time new employee stipend of $2,000 for “highly qualified” teachers, but these are strictly limited to teachers with very specific qualifications.

Data from other incentive-based programs like “Teach. Live. T-Town.” have proven to be positive motivation for brand-new teachers. In Washington, D.C., the controversial teacher incentive program called “IMPACT” was proven by the Stanford Graduate School of Education to drive positive qualitative and quantitative results within the District of Columbia Public School system. Incentives were based on qualifying factors such as age, education and financial need, as well as annual evaluation, similar to those recommended by the “Teach. Live. T-Town” initiative.

Clark County School District, located in Carson City, Nevada, launched a flashy recruiting campaign across the nation in order to sign 2,300 new hires by August 2015. Although the campaign fell short, as did similar or lesser attempts nationwide, the district made considerable progress due to millions of dollars worth of teacher incentives in the $4,000 to $5,000 range, funded by the Nevada State Board of Education.

Many school officials worry one initiative may initially serve as an attractive factor, but will not solve underlying issues surrounding teacher retention.

“Focusing on people instead of processes will keep us chasing our tail because the ‘people’ will constantly change,” said Assistant Superintendent of Sand Springs Public Schools Rob Miller. “Quality processes provide the stability that holds all great organizations together. I’m suggesting we need to replace the current problem-solving mentality centered on identifying the ‘whos’ and replace it on one focused on one answering the ‘whys’ and ‘hows.’”

For more information on Vision2025 renewals, visit tulsacounty.org or attend the next Vision Authority meeting Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 10 a.m. in the Ray Jordan Tulsa County Administration Building.

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