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A teacher advancement program under way at half of Beaufort County's schools is increasing student achievement, district and state officials say.
The program, called TAP, combines teacher collaboration and mentoring, regular teacher evaluations and continuing teacher education.
When it works -- and student test scores improved -- teachers and school staff are rewarded with bonuses. In Beaufort County, bonuses ranged from $580 to $4,800, according to a district news release.
The average bonus was $2,200. Bonuses are paid with federal funds.
The program is working remarkably well in Beaufort County, said Dennis Dotterer, the state coordinator of TAP.
Teachers at eight of the district's 15 TAP schools were eligible for bonuses based on scores students made on Palmetto Achievement of State Standards exams, Dotterer said during a presentation to the Beaufort County school board on Nov. 1.
The results are so encouraging that the national foundation that started TAP, the Milken Family Foundation, plans to visit the district to learn why it's working so well here, Dotterer said.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale has told the board the program might be worth expanding, and the district could look into seeking grants to support it.
No vote was taken on the matter, however.
Teachers at TAP schools say collaboration has increased and they've implemented specific, data-driven strategies to help students learn.
Each TAP school has a master teacher who tries out strategies in class and then teaches other teachers what works, said Pete Burvenich, a sixth-grade math teacher at Whale Branch Middle School.
Whale Branch Middle was one of four schools where in one year students made more progress than would normally be made in a year, Dotterer said.
The others are Beaufort, St. Helena and Whale Branch elementary schools.
Classroom teachers are observed and graded by other teachers, who then provide feedback. As a mentor teacher, Burvenich observes eight other teachers at least twice a year.
Kim Fields, a Montessori teacher at Beaufort Elementary, said weekly meetings to discuss what's working -- and to fix what isn't -- have been extremely helpful.
"It's definitely fostering more collaboration," she said.
Burvenich said teachers are encouraged to implement strategies gradually, making it easier to incorporate them into lessons and track students' progress.
For example, when teaching reading comprehension, teachers discussed with students how contextual clues could help define unknown words, taking time to specifically focus on punctuation, surrounding words, and potential synonyms or antonyms. The process took weeks, he said, but it was worth it.
"If we move too fast, we're missing the mark," he said. "If we move before the kids are ready, they're not going to truly understand that small chunk. And they need to do that in order to get to the next one."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.