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New teacher evaluation program got its start in Salem

Published On: Dec 26 2013 10:48:28 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 26 2013 11:10:12 PM EST
SALEM, Va. -

Part of any teacher's job is to grade their student's performance. But what about the teacher? How are they graded?

Virginia launched a new program this year to give some teachers bonuses if they meet certain goal and the kernel of this idea sprouted in Salem.

Back in August, Governor McDonnell chose Andrew Lewis Middle School in Salem to announce $4.5 million in grant money for teacher bonuses. Starting this school year, if an instructor meets school-decided benchmarks, they get a payout. The program was developed in large part thanks to a group of instructors at Salem City Schools.

Valerie Close, Beth Cook and Amanda Gibson joined with a few other dedicated teachers to implore the state to retain its staff.

"One of the greatest things about this is we all are helping students but some of us have done innovative things in our classroom and this is one of those things this grant has looked at," says high school chemistry teacher Beth Cook. "Who's doing an innovative project and how can we [reward] that?"

Quite simply, instead of the state dictating exactly how a student should be taught, school divisions who got the grant money can now at least in part, help steer teachers in what matters most to their individual school.

"If you're looking at the whole picture I think that achievement has its place but we've discovered that there's other measures looking at academic progress," says assistant principal Amanda Gibson. "Measurements we do with our students that let's a child know where they are coming into the classroom and also shows the effect you've had on that child throughout the school year."

13 school divisions across the commonwealth will be a part of the Strategic Grant Program. Lynchburg City Schools got more than $26,000 for some math teachers to become coaches for other math teachers.

Roanoke City Schools got more than $700,000 for teachers at three elementary schools.

But no one got more than Salem, about $850,000 to give bonuses to more than 300 eligible teachers. The bonus could be as much as five grand.

"They do so much every day, so I really think teachers deserve some sort of compensation for the hard work that they do.," says elementary teacher Valerie Close

But simply offering bonuses is just the beginning of the suggestions Salem has for the rest of the state.

Another idea is to create leadership positions for teachers, so they don't feel locked into their job responsibilities and change careers.

"So you can have opportunities for teachers to move up in their career but still be in the classroom," says Gibson.

Gibson tells WDBJ7 there have been a lot of questions from teachers in Salem about exactly how the bonuses will work, but most are on board with the idea.

The grant money is not guaranteed for any school year after this one, the General Assembly would likely have to make it a line item if the program is successful across the commonwealth.