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FCAT bonus plan to reward principals

St. Petersburg educators stand to gain if their schools raise grades.

Published October 14, 2006

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, whose efforts to improve city schools have brought him national attention, announced a plan Friday that could put thousands of extra dollars in the pockets of top-performing school administrators.

Under Baker's program, high school principals at some St. Petersburg schools will receive $10,000 bonuses for each letter grade their schools improve on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Principals at schools that maintain an A also would get $10,000. Assistant principals could collect up to $2,500 at the discretion of the principal and the superintendent.

If a school jumps from a D to an A, a principal would receive $30,000, and an assistant principal would receive $7,500.

"This is huge for us," said Pinellas superintendent Clayton Wilcox. "I just think this is a great thing for our school system."

Money for the performance bonuses will come from an anonymous donor, Baker said. The donor has committed to funding schools from next year through the end of Baker's term as mayor in January 2010.

Citing quality education as "the key to our city's future," Baker said businesses thinking of relocating to St. Petersburg inquire about the quality of the city's schools. Prospective home buyers ask the same question, he said.

But while elementary and middle schools have improved their scores on the FCAT, several of the city's high schools continue to struggle. Boca Ciega High has received D's for each of the last four years. Lakewood High has received D's for the past two years.

Under Baker's plan, five of the seven St. Petersburg area high schools are eligible for the bonus. St. Petersburg Collegiate High, which has earned an A two years in a row, does not qualify because it has fewer than the required 1,500 students. And since more than half of the students at Dixie Hollins High live outside the city, the school, which has received a D for the past three years, is not eligible for the bonus.

But Boca Ciega in Gulfport does qualify because more than 50 percent of its students live in St. Petersburg.

"It's so unique," Boca Ciega principal Paula Nelson said of the program. "This is his vision and his commitment to education, and we're just honored to have that. It gives credibility to what we're doing and the support we need."

Tracey Keim, an English teacher at St. Petersburg High, said she thinks the mayor's gesture would be welcomed if the money is shared with the rest of the staff. But if it's not shared, some people could feel less valued, she said.

"You can't have a good school without a good principal," Keim said. "But you need the teachers, too. They go hand in hand."

Wilcox thinks monetary incentives can provide the extra impetus educators need to work harder.

"I absolutely think that the administrative team that I have in place is working very hard, but I think knowing that there is some type of performance incentive available might be the extra incentive that they need," he said. "I just think that it might provide that motivation that someone is looking for."

The fact that only a section of the school district is eligible for Baker's incentive does not bother Wilcox.

"I think it probably says to some other civic leaders that we all have an interest in education and we all have an interest in good schools, and perhaps it's a signal of the type of partnerships that can exist for our kids and for our schools," he said.

Baker, who is chairman of the National League of Cities' public school task force, has launched several programs to help improve St. Petersburg area schools. His Mayor's Mentors & More program offers Doorways scholarships to low-income children. His office also promotes mentoring and recruits corporate partners for St. Petersburg schools.

Among Baker's incentives for teachers is the A+ Housing Program, which offers loans of up to $18,000 for educators who buy homes in the city. The loans are forgiven if teachers stay in the city 10 years. The city has invested $457,000 in the program so far.

The Top Apple Awards, which provide bonuses of $2,500 to principals and $1,000 to assistant principals when a school improves a letter grade or maintains an A, will continue for elementary and middle schools and for St. Petersburg Collegiate High School.

Providing incentives for struggling schools is not new. Last year, Hillsborough County became the first district in the Tampa Bay area, and one of the first in the nation, to use bonus pay to attract quality teachers to disadvantaged schools. Teachers who are willing to work in schools with extra challenges can get up to a 10 percent salary increase.

While the experiment attracted a large number of teachers - the number of national board-certified teachers in Hillsborough's poorest schools rose from three to 30 - some educators are skeptical about whether monetary bonuses will produce sustained results.

Educators gave equally mixed reviews when the state Legislature approved a plan in the spring to award teacher bonuses based on how students perform on the FCAT.

But Nelson, the Boca Ciega principal, is pleased with the promise of a bonus if her school improves its D grade next spring. She paused when asked how she would spend the money.

"Well," she said, "I think we will have to do a lot of celebrating."

Times staff writer Donna Winchester contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or



Here are the five St. Petersburg high schools, and their principals, who would be eligible for bonuses under Mayor Rick Baker's program. The schools' letter grades for 2005 and 2006 are included.

* Northeast High School: Principal, Patricia H. Wright; 2006 C; 2005 C.

* St. Petersburg High School: Principal, Albert C. Bennett; 2006 B; 2005 B.

* Gibbs High School: Principal, Antelia Campbell; 2006 C; 2005 D.

* Boca Ciega High School: Principal, Paula Nelson; 2006 D; 2005 D.

* Lakewood High School: Principal, Dennis Duda; 2006 D; 2005 D.

[Last modified October 14, 2006, 05:44:44]

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