New contract sets foundation for future in West Jefferson Hills
West Jefferson Hills School District and its teachers union entered a new six-year agreement on May 28 that leaders say reflects their vision for the district’s future.
The contract, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2025, clears the way for schedule changes, personalized learning time and the launch of a cyber program.
“We’ve rethought how education is being offered here to incorporate research, best practices and be progressive,” Superintendent Michael Ghilani said. “We want this district to be the best, and I think this contract is a mutual agreement that shows that we all want to be the best.”
West Jefferson Hills School Board members unanimously ratified the contract with the Jefferson Federation of Teachers on May 28. There are 220 teachers represented by the federation.
The federation currently is working under a five-year contract with the district that was set to run through June 30, 2020.
With changes abounding in the district, the early bird contract helps outline the vision leaders have to move forward, they said.
“I just think it’s important because it makes a commitment to show what a great working relationship we have,” said Jim Benedek, representing the federation and a middle school video production teacher. “With the vision that they have for the district — the school board and the superintendents — I think we bought into it full stop. Getting this done helped create that path.”
The contract outlines pay raises for teachers starting in the 2020-21 school year. Teachers will receive raises based on the old contract for the 2019-20 school year.
For the last five years of the new contract, raises for teachers range from $2,000 to $2,800 a year.
This equates to a 5.6% raise for teachers on the lowest end of the pay scale and a 1.8% raise for teachers on the high end.
It was important to make the “bottom end” of the district’s pay scale “as competitive as possible” to ensure the district is attracting “top quality teachers” in a time when less teachers are entering the workforce, Ghilani said. Still, it was important to not ignore “the hard work that our veterans have put in,” he said.
The contract outlines that there will be no teacher furloughs for three years, starting in 2019-20.
In West Jefferson Hills, about $700,000 is funneled annually toward cyber programs, which students attend through outside programs. The district also doesn’t have its own summer school program and sends students to other programs.
Students who can’t attend full-day classes due to health reasons also have to rely on outside programs.
“It’s costly, and they’re not getting our curriculum,” Ghilani said.
West Jefferson Hills leaders want to see all of those students attending their schools and learning their curriculum.
The new contract allows the district to create a cyber program that could either be part of a teacher’s course load throughout the day or an after-school duty. It’s based on how many students are in each section and scaled to be fair, Ghilani said. If teachers take on an after-school assignment, they would get additional pay based on a sliding scale, depending on how many students they are assigned.
The cyber program would give students the opportunity to take any class already offered in the district online.
“That’s going to be attractive to bring kids back to the district,” Ghilani said. “They’ll be able to participate in our extracurriculars, things we offer our students.”
The program likely won’t be up and running until the second semester of the 2019-20 school year.
“I think that’s a big change that will help the district propel in a different avenue,” Benedek said.
Also in the contract:
• An outline of building schedules and personalized learning time that will occur at all five schools was added to the contract. At Thomas Jefferson High School next school year, the school will switch from nine periods a day to eight with time in the middle of the day for personalized learning.
For the teachers, the contract provides a framework for how they will operate, Ghilani said. For the district, it outlines expectations for what will occur during the personalized learning time.
The contract also aims to provide equity for teachers across all grade levels, Ghilani and Benedek said.
• A differentiated model for teacher observations and evaluations was added to the contract.
“Distinguished teachers” can choose to do research and present it to their colleagues to show benefits of things they’re doing in the classroom, Ghilani said. That would occur in place of an observation.
The majority of teachers can choose between observations and walk-throughs.
This all gives principals more time to focus on teachers who are struggling and to work with them on an improvement plan.
• The contract also allows for the addition of a teacher special assignment, where the district can pull a teacher from the classroom for a year and put a long-term substitute in their classroom to have the teacher focus on something specific, ranging from grant writing to assisting others.
The selection is not seniority based and could allow the district to utilize its teachers’ skills instead of contracting consultants, Ghilani said.