FAIRMONT - Last fall, teachers at Fairmont High School began their first year under the Q-comp program.
Now, as they finish up with the last of the paperwork, they can review successes and challenges that remain.
"Overall, it went really well," said Joe Strukel, a social studies teacher and the main Q-comp person in Fairmont. "Anytime you try to start something new there are going to be bumps."
Q-comp is a means of assessing teacher performance and encouraging professional growth through three main compensation opportunities.
First, individual teachers are reviewed and graded by peers three times per school year. At the end of the year, teachers write a report on their reviews and performance. If they earn one of the top two grade levels and their report is deemed satisfactory, they earn $1,000.
Strukel said actually observing a colleague teaching was a bit novel for some teachers, as they usually are all working at the same time and tend to be isolated with their students.
"This is the first time I have seen some people teach I have worked with for 15 years," Strukel noted.
The teacher observations allowed creative teaching plans to be shared throughout the staff, creating a benefit for students.
"We have really cool things happening in our school, and now we can replicate in other classrooms," Strukel said.
He believes asking teachers to write a report about their own performance helps them understand and share their methods with other staff.
"Our good teachers already do a lot of reflective thinking," he said, "but now that has to be articulated."
Strukel said some teachers - fewer than five - chose not to write a report and thereby passed on the $1,000 bonus opportunity.
Before Q-comp, teachers were observed on a five-year rotation after their probationary period.
Under Q-comp, a second section of review came in the form of team reviews. Teachers met in Professional Learning Communities - PLCs - based on their grade level in the elementary school and content level in the high school. The teams drafted goals that were rewarded with $1,000 bonuses for each teacher if the goals were met. Strukel said every team made its goal.
A third review area was in student achievement.
Each school set a goal of having 85 percent reading proficiency based on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores. It was a lofty goal based on past ratings. The numbers are still being crunched, but Strukel said if the schools didn't make it, they came close.
"We are still looking at the data," Strukel said. "We aren't satisfied [with the 85 percent], but that is some good growth."
The bonus money teachers earn comes from state funds associated with Q-comp. It is not part of the salary paid by the district.
Next year, there will be a few changes to the program. Strukel said they found a need for a coordinator for the individual review processes and the team leaders.
The ability to give constructive criticism is a skill that can sometimes be difficult, and having a coordinator to offer training and learn those skills will help communication.
Strukel said not all teachers were given wonderful reviews, and it is the first responsibility of the observer to help the teacher improve.
"It is fine if you think someone is doing a good job," Strukel said, "but how do you help them do a better job?"