OPINION | EDITORIAL: ‘Pay’ attention

Give it a try, LRSD

Incentive: (noun) a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.

A great teacher in the classroom leads to success in that classroom. A great principal in the building's office leads to success in the school. And we'd suggest that a great superintendent at district HQ leads to success throughout the district.

And every day there is more and more hope for the Little Rock School District.

The school board seems to be doing an outstanding job. One of the best decisions that board has made lately is hiring Jermall Wright. The superintendent keeps making the news for all the best reasons.

LRSD leaders are exploring retention and incentive pay, according to the news side of this outfit--with more money going to those working in the most challenging schools. Teachers would receive incentive pay. Principals would receive incentive pay. The first year's money for the added salary (which could come next school year) would come from federal covid relief funds.

The plan goes like this: Principals would be given three-year contracts to help retention. Then teachers in a school could get up to $6,500 in incentive pay, depending on the school. Less money would be given to teachers in less-challenging schools. Principals could get as much as 10K. We refer you to Cynthia Howell's story in Monday's paper.

"It doesn't matter how many programs we purchase and it doesn't matter how many programs we put in schools," Superintendent Wright said, "The most important thing we can focus our efforts and attention on is putting a high-quality teacher in every single classroom and having a highly effective instructional and organizational leader in all of our schools.

"All of our work in this plan is geared toward developing the folks that we have or recruiting others to our district who can help us move the needle," he said, and added that for the Little Rock district to be a viable school system, the 30 percent of third-graders reading at grade level must, at a minimum, double within the next few years.

This is remarkable on a number of levels. As in, somebody should remark.

It is a sign that leaders in Little Rock's schools understand human beings respond to incentive. In education, this is not to be sneezed at. Too many in the education bureaucracy--not just in Little Rock, but everywhere--have opposed incentive pay in the past because they've demanded across-the-board increases instead. After all, inept teachers also pay union dues.

Incentive works. At least it motivates. It's a part of the word's definition.

There was some discussion, per our report, about whether what is being proposed is "merit" pay. Superintendent Wright says it is not, since he defines merit pay as money going to individual teachers. His proposal would be for all faculty at a school, as performance is measured from year to year. Making that distinction might make the plan easier to pass. Or maybe the phrase "merit pay" is impolitic.

Whatever gets them through the night. That this proposal is coming from within the school system, and is being met with general regard, is enough to make reformers sing.

Somebody take notes: If this is the start of something good in Little Rock, other school districts might want to copy and paste.

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