Community gardens, film clubs, and annual monetary awards for teachers — not all schools can afford these kinds of luxuries. But Boston Collegiate Charter School can, thanks to its new Fund for Teaching Excellence, a million-dollar, five-year initiative established in January.
The money was raised as part of the Dorchester school’s 2015 “Capacity to Lead” campaign, which also resulted in a $12.7 million construction project that expanded the school’s classroom and dining facilities.
The primary goal of the initiative is to inspire teachers to continue working at the school. Dominic Slowey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said the fund is the only one of its type in Boston that he is aware of.
“The ethos is that without great teachers, nothing matters,” said Shannah Varón, executive director of the school. “We don’t want to just fund-raise for our facilities. We want to fund-raise for our teachers.”
The money is allocated to three initiatives: annual awards for teachers, funding for innovative teaching ideas, and grants to retain teachers. The budget for fund use is $200,000 per year.
The annual monetary awards are split into three categories. The first will reward teachers for experiential milestones. A teacher who has been at the school for 10 years might get a few thousand dollars, Varón said.
The second is a performance award based on student test scores and teaching prowess. The third is a “core value” award, given to teachers who best exemplify the school’s values, including “a culture of deeply knowing” and “authentic communication.”
Seven “core value” awards will be given annually, each at a value of $2,000. In order to prevent an overcompetitive teaching culture, teachers will be in charge of the nomination process.
The fund’s teaching innovation portion supports experiences and professional development. They must submit an application for their idea. One teacher wants to take a Haitian Creole class at UMass Boston to better understand her Haitian students. Another wants to provide free copies of Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” to the #blackgirlmagic community club.
“I do believe, in all honesty, that if teachers have something to look forward to and share with students, they are more invested and feel more valued in the community,” said Bridget Adam, a sixth-grade math teacher on the school’s Board of Trustees. “When teachers feel that way, you see it on their face and in how they interact with students.”
The final branch of the fund revolves around teacher community and sustainibility. Both Adam and Varón said it can be difficult to be a Boston Collegiate teacher — with long days, the unpaid curriculum planning time, and worrying about each of their students.
Making the job sustainable means something different for every teacher, Adam said. Some teachers want to get out of work earlier. Others want to come in later, so they can drop off their own children at school. Some just request compensation for their summer curriculum planning. And others simply want free coffee in the teachers’ lounge.
“Whether this is going to be the thing that keeps teachers at our school is still unknown,” Adam said. “The hope is that if it can get one or two teachers to say ‘The school has invested in me’ and kept them at our school, then it has been successful.”