How could a large number of well-paid teacher-leader roles emerge in a unionized district? This question is at the top of the list for many superintendents.
Syracuse, N.Y., educators have some advice, captured in a new three-page vignette, How One Union-District Partnership Launched an Opportunity Culture. Syracuse union and district leaders discuss their experiences and lessons they learned about working together for a successful launch.
In late 2013, the Syracuse City School District became the nation’s first unionized district to use Opportunity Culture, with four of its highest-need schools choosing and tailoring models to fit. They began to implement their new teacher-leader roles using the Multi-Classroom Leadership model in 2014–15, and are now expanding the roles to many more schools. Multi-classroom leaders—several per school—earn a $12,000 supplement in Syracuse for leading teams and helping their colleagues succeed, while continuing to teach.
Opportunity Culture models extend the reach of teachers who excel with students to more students, directly and by leading other teachers, for much higher pay funded by reallocating existing budgets. Teachers gain planning and collaboration time, and teachers in advanced roles are responsible for the outcomes of all the students they serve—as well as for the support, development, and success of their colleagues when they work in teams. In nearly all cases, instructional group sizes remain the same or even smaller.
The strongest advice from Syracuse on launching an Opportunity Culture? Both union leaders and a former administrator say: Get the union involved from the very beginning, and keep it involved at every step of the way.
“Trust is the key thing, and that’s not something that’s going to be created because somebody says something nice in one meeting,” says Joan Brown of the Syracuse Teachers Association. “It takes time and interactions to build trust.”
Syracuse union leaders pinpoint several items they think a district must demonstrate to make this sort of school redesign work, including capacity, a focus on student need, and openness to union feedback, and they highlight critical points in the process for union involvement.
“The way we included the union as a genuine partner helped build trust and make an even more genuine partnership over time,” says Jeremy Grant-Skinner, executive director of talent management for the district at the time of the launch.
“Opportunity Culture school models are specifically designed to help teachers, not just students,” notes Lucy Steiner, who is leading Public Impact’s work assisting districts in implementing an Opportunity Culture. “The chances to earn more for helping more students and other teachers, to lead while teaching and get more support and on-the-job development—these all benefit teachers first, who then share great teaching with their students. But the design process must also be right, engaging the people most affected in key decisions.”
Read more about the early days of this Opportunity Culture partnership and the helpful actions of both parties in Syracuse in How One Union-District Partnership Launched an Opportunity Culture, written by Sharon Kebschull Barrett of Public Impact.