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U.S. Education Secretary Spotlights Salt Lake City Middle School

The country’s top education boss was in Utah today to praise and learn from one of Salt Lake City’s highest-achieving Title 1 schools.  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stopped by Northwest Middle School to talk about gains the school has made with the help of a federal school improvement grant.

In 2010, Northwest received a $2.3 million school improvement grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In that time, math proficiency jumped from 37 to 79 percent of students and science proficiency has grown from 38 to 58 percent. In addition, fewer kids are late for class and more parents are attending parent-teacher conferences.

“Most of what we did was about paying teachers for extra time to collaborate and be prepared,” said Northwest Principal Brian Conley.

He said he used the extra money to hire math and science coaches and implement a pay-for-performance model, which he says allowed him to retain the best and brightest teachers.

Math Teacher Katie Hipple told Secretary Duncan during a roundtable discussion, performance pay had a positive effect in the classroom. 

“When a couple of individual teachers feel that success and get those high fives, it’s contagious and it spreads to the whole math department, to which then the whole math department wants to work together as a team to achieve our goal,” Hipple said.

But Secretary Duncan says the real question is how the school sustains the progress, now that the three-year school improvement grant ended this year.

“I think what you’ve heard is just an extraordinary commitment of the principal of the staff of the teachers, of the community to keep going and partner maybe ideally with the district,” Duncan said. “But while the resources help, what’s most important is culture and expectations, high expectations.

Principal Conley says the school intends to set aside 10 percent of its Title 1 budget to keep the performance pay model and instruction coaches.

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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