Incentive to excel: Lee County presents ‘innovative’ Head of Class Project

By ALEXA MILAN

SANFORD — The Lee County Education Foundation’s new incentive-based initiative to improve school achievement is the first project of its kind in North Carolina, and if successful, it could expand nationwide.

Notable county, state and national leaders gathered at Deep River Elementary School on Thursday to announce the Head of Class Project, a public-private partnership that will award $50,000 annually to the faculty and staff of the best performing elementary school in Lee County.

“The eyes of North Carolina are going to be on Lee County as this moves forward,” former Gov. Jim Holshouser said. “I think it’s so innovative and so imaginative. They’re going to see it in Raleigh, and I think they’re going to see it beyond the state boundaries, too.”

Several prominent figures in North Carolina education attended Thursday’s event, including Gov. Bev Perdue, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, Chairman of the State Board of Education Bill Harrison, former Govs. Holshouser and Jim Hunt, former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, Superintendent of Lee County Schools Jeff Moss and Chairman of the Lee County Education Foundation Kirk Bradley.

“People way back in the day convinced me to dream big dreams and work hard for a good education, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Perdue said.

The winning elementary school will be determined by a formula based on established Department of Public Instruction measures such as Adequate Yearly Progress and ABC scores (see sidebar). The formula also addresses the percentage of students at each school that qualify for free/reduced lunch, which Bradley said he hopes will improve the level of equality among the schools.

“We wanted something that was objective and leveled the playing field,” Bradley said.

The first winning school will receive its award at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Every member of the staff from the principal to the custodians will receive a portion of the $50,000 award. Bradley said the foundation believes that every staff member on a school’s campus contributes in some way to developing a positive learning environment.

“The idea of including everyone in this is going to create a sense of teamwork that we don’t see a lot of places,” Holshouser said.

In his presentation to the Board of Education, Bradley said the intent of the Head of Class Program is to enhance student performance by reinforcing that hard work is necessary to achieve academic goals. The idea is that the incentive model will provide schools with extra motivation that will result in higher test scores.

“Even though there is only one winner, everyone’s test scores should go up,” Bradley said.

The foundation will fund the project through a $1 million endowment supported by individual donors and corporations. The fundraising effort first began with Lee County Education Foundation Founding Chairman Dennis Wicker, who Bradley said has been integral to the project’s development. Wicker did not attend Thursday’s event in order to spend more time with his son, who is about to be deployed to Pakistan.

The foundation has led capital campaigns since its inception, but Wicker and Bradley first started discussing the best way to apply the money to improving academic performance two and a half years ago. They formed a funding priorities committee and examined statewide data before deciding that an incentive-based program that rewards all staff members might provide a kind of motivational boost that hadn’t been attempted previously.

“It has the right mix of teamwork and competition,” Atkinson said. “It has the right mix of business people, community people and educators working together.”

The collaborative fundraising effort won’t stop now that the project has been launched. Bradley said the foundation hopes to raise enough money to initiate the program in middle schools and high schools as well. In addition to ultimately expanding the model locally, Atkinson has asked Moss to present the Head of Class Project to other North Carolina superintendents at a September meeting.

“It’s a pleasure to see the private sector and the public sector working together,” Lee County Board of Education member Bill Tatum said. “It’s a significant shift in the way the system recognizes faculty and staff.”

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THE FORMULA

The Head of Class Project is the Lee County Education Foundation’s new incentive-based initiative that will reward faculty and staff of the year’s highest performing elementary school with $50,000.

To determine the highest performing school, the foundation has developed a formula based on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s achievement measures.

Head of Class Project point summary

* AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) percent: The percentage of subgroups making AYP target goals met. Each percent = 1 point. Maximum points = 100.

* ABC composite percent: The ABC composite score. Each percent = 1 point. Maximum points = 100.

* Free/reduced lunch percent: The percent of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. Each percent = 1 point. Maximum points = 100.

* Percent increase in ABC composite score from the previous school year: Each percent increase = 1 point.

* ABC expected growth: 10 points for becoming an ABC expected growth school.

* ABC high growth: 20 points for becoming an ABC high growth school.

* School of Distinction: 15 points for achieving School of Distinction status. Schools with more than 60 percent free/reduced lunch get 25 points.

* School of Excellence: 25 points for achieving School of Excellence status. Schools with more than 60 percent free/reduced lunch get 35 points.

When applied to the data for 2009-2010, the formula reveals that J. Glenn Edwards Elementary would have been the winner had the Head of Class Program been in place last year.

The school would receive 100 points for making AYP, 77.7 points for its ABC composite score, 76.9 points for free/reduced lunch, 3.5 points for its percent increase in ABC composite score and 10 points for making expected growth, for a total of 268.1 points.