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Teachers are Leading the Change in IPS

Our district will only thrive if more teachers step into leadership. We need to ensure our evaluation system is accurate, fair and growth-oriented. Teachers must help define what these new 'teacher leadership' roles look like in schools.
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By Abby Taylor

In August, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) board approved a new contract. All teachers received a pay raise. Early-career teachers will get a permanent bump of 12.1 percent and all teachers will receive a raise of at least 2.9 percent. Veteran teachers can get to the top salary quicker, and will therefore be paid more money for longer. Teachers can make anywhere from $5,000 to $18,000 by taking on additional leadership in their building.

This contract, which includes the first pay raise IPS teachers have had in five years, happened because teachers took the lead. I am proud of the work we did to ensure that our district is a place where teachers can come to work.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Indianapolis Teaching Policy Fellows held a simulation event where 150 IPS teachers learned the realities of what it takes to put together a district budget. Then, last fall through early spring, Teach Plus gathered a group of 140 teachers to develop their advocacy storytelling skills. As we shared our experiences, we soon found a common thread - for five years, IPS teachers had been asked to choose between supporting their students and taking care of their families. Many of us had job offers in schools and districts where we could make thousands more, but we wanted to stay because we loved our students. We believed that choosing between our kids at home and kids in our classrooms was a false choice. We were determined to do something about it.

We formed Elevate IPS, a campaign designed by teachers to fight for a pay increase in the next contract. With the support of Teach Plus, and in conjunction with the Indianapolis Education Association (IEA), we started organizing. We hosted school meetings to spread the word and gather input. We spoke at school board meetings, telling our stories to board members, the administration, and the general public. We wrote op-eds, and hosted happy hours; we even gathered teachers for ice cream. We engaged over 200 IPS teachers, and we had the same message -- IPS teachers need a pay raise, and they need it now.

The administration heard us. In May, Dr. Lewis Ferebee stated publicly that IPS teachers would receive a pay raise in the next contract. Over the summer teachers, led by IEA President Rhondalyn Cornett, came to the bargaining table with solutions. Teachers drove the contract negotiations, and teachers designed the contract that was ratified by IEA membership in late August. IPS teachers got their raise because IPS teachers led the fight for it.

Our district will only thrive if more teachers step into leadership. We need to ensure our evaluation system is accurate, fair and growth-oriented. Teachers must help define what these new 'teacher leadership' roles look like in schools. The district should leverage the talent they already have, and pay their own teachers instead of consultants to lead professional development.

IPS teachers led the change in the most recent contract; they will lead the change the district needs to see to ensure all of our students are well served.

Abby Taylor is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum, a leader of Elevate IPS, and secretary treasurer of the Indianapolis Education Association. She teaches third grade at William McKinley Elementary in IPS.

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