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APEX Home | Theory of Action | Strategic Compensation Overview
Teacher Incentives | Administrator IncentivesAPEX FAQVideos | TEAM





  Frequently Asked Questions


We realize that with a new system coming into place, you may have questions. If your question is not answered by this FAQ, please contact Nakia Towns (nakia.towns@knoxschools.org) or Christine Wolf (christine.wolf@knoxschools.org)
  1. What is strategic compensation?
  2. Why has strategic compensation become such a popular topic in education?
  3. What measures did the district take to design a fair and comprehensive system?
  4. How is the APEX system structured?
  5. What is the new TEAM educator evaluation framework?
  6. Who is eligible to receive Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentives, and how much are the awards?
  7. Will APEX include all teachers, even those without state assessments?
  8. How is the district supporting high-needs schools? Is the high needs school metric fair?
  9. Will teachers have the opportunity for career growth?
  10. Won’t strategic compensation just create destructive competition?
  11. Why are we pursuing this plan now?
  12. How will a strategic compensation system benefit the district?
  13. How is the district funding the APEX strategic compensation system?
  14. Is there any flexibility to adjust the plan after implementation?
  15. How can teachers and other staff provide feedback, and how will our feedback be used?
  16. How will I know about any APEX updates? How will the district keep me in the loop?
  17. What are key dates that I need to remember for APEX eligibility and awards?
  18. How can I learn more?

What is strategic compensation?


Using compensation “strategically” means aligning the finite resources a school organization has with its desired goals. In most schools across the country, 70–80 percent of expenditures are dedicated, in some way, to personnel costs. How these monies are allocated and spent shapes schools and our ability to achieve our goals. Knox County Schools’ (KCS) APEX strategic compensation system reflects our belief that our compensation system should be aligned to our most important instructional goals and that we must continue to focus on high-level student learning through effective classroom teaching.


Why has strategic compensation become such a popular topic in education?

Changes to the global economy call for a more competitive, better prepared and more creative workforce. The country looks to our schools to provide students with the experiences, learning and skills to meet the needs of this new global economy. School organizations are now facing years of cuts in spending and are forced to find ways to improve efficiencies. With this new economic reality, the focus has shifted to performance accountability, data-driven decision making, transparency and continuous improvement of organizations, processes, products and people.

In our current state of accountability and equity for all students, along with the demands that will be made upon our students in order for them to be productive and successful citizens, recruiting, growing, and retaining the best and brightest is critical to maximizing student growth and achievement.  The traditional "step and lane" salary scale for educators has no link to and makes no distinctions based upon effectiveness and overall performance.  (This issue is hightlighted in The New Teacher Project's research on The Widget Effect.)  Strategic compensation provides the opportunity to recognize and reward excellence in teaching. 


What measures did the district take to design a fair and comprehensive system?

KCS implemented a collaborative and broad-based strategic compensation design process supported by a team of human resources, assessment, and finance professionals; two principals; a teacher; the president of the Knox County Education Association; and a representative from the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. The district leadership in curriculum and instruction, as well as the executive leadership team, including the Superintendent, participated in the design process. Additionally, education consultants from Battelle for Kids, a not-for-profit organization, provided strategic input. The district submitted a thorough, 32-page implementation application that outlined the system to the Tennessee Department of Education, for review and approval by an outside evaluator, the Tennessee Consortium for Research, Evaluation and Development (TN-CRED), and the State Board of Education. To engage stakeholders from across the district in the design process, collect critical feedback, and ensure district-wide communication and understanding, we:

• Hosted 12 focus group sessions that included 80 teachers, administrators, and stakeholders;
• Coordinated 16 teacher-focused "listening tour" meetings;
• Distributed a teacher survey (with 72 percent participation);
• Developed a new Intranet site for staff members to share feedback (with more than 6,200 visits in four months); and
• Garnered public input at two community meetings held at Fulton and Karns High Schools.


How is the APEX system structured?

To help KCS achieve our four major objectives - student success, effective instruction, teacher leadership, and support for high needs schools - the APEX system includes five core components that align with these goals: 1. Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentives, 2. School Excellence Awards to Reward School-Wide Growth, 3. Coaching and Other Support Resources to Help Teachers Learn and Grow , 4. Teacher Leadership and 5. TAP® (The System for Teacher and Student Advancement) for 18 High-Needs Schools. These components focus on supporting the professional growth and continuous improvement of our existing teacher workforce as we believe that student academic success depends on having an outstanding educator in every classroom.


What is the new TEAM educator evaluation framework?

Beginning during the 2011–2012 school year, Tennessee will implement an annual TEAM (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model) evaluation of every certified educator as part of First to the Top. The TEAM framework is designed to improve student academic success by identifying and supporting effective instruction, determining where teachers are working effectively, appropriately harnessing and sharing their best practices through Professional Learning Communities and identifying opportunities for real and meaningful support. The evaluations include multiple measures and are made up of three components: 50 percent observation data from trained and certified instructional leaders, 35 percent student growth results and 15 percent student achievement data. Many of the components of the TEAM framework are highlighted in the The New Teacher Project's Teacher Evaluation 2.0, a policy brief outlining six recommendations for effective teacher evaluation systems. 

Going forward, personnel decisions—including promotion, retention, tenure and compensation—will be based in part on these evaluations. As such, the TEAM summative evaluation rating accounts for 70% of the APEX Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentive determination. Tennessee is committed to refining the new evaluation framework through feedback and careful study over time, particularly during the first year of implementation.


Who is eligible to receive Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentives, and how much are the awards?


We are pleased to offer Teacher Performance Incentives and Administrator Performance Incentives to certified, school-based personnel who achieve demonstrated excellence. Most certified educators who directly interface with students are eligible for these awards, including teachers, principals, assistant principals, school counselors, librarians, academic interventionists, school social workers and other school-based personnel. All those covered under the TEAM evaluation framework are eligible for the APEX performance awards.  Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentive awards range from $2,000 for exemplary performance and $1,500 for model performance and will be an annual payout each year the teacher/administrator meets the criteria. Educators must meet specific criteria across all four objectives of the APEX system (1. Student Success, 2. Effective Instruction, 3. Teacher Leadership and 4. Support for High-Needs Schools) to earn an award. Download complete APEX Eligibility Guidelines.


Will APEX include all teachers, even those without state assessments?

Yes. The question of untested subjects and grades is one that is vexing the state with regard to the evaluation framework, which, by law, must include student growth data. However, our strategic compensation plan is not limited to test scores. We have the flexibility to consider other metrics and measurements. Teachers across all disciplines make a difference, and our APEX plan reflects this value.


How is the district supporting high-needs schools? Is the high needs school metric fair?

One of the APEX system’s core components involves providing support for 18 schools designated as high-needs through TAP® (The System for Teacher and Student Advancement), a proven school reform and educational-improvement structure that is consistent with the objectives of KCS’ system. TAP® includes teacher collaboration, teacher leadership, instructional rubric and performance compensation components, and will give educators opportunities to learn research-based teaching strategies and hold them accountable for their performance. Teacher and administrator award recipients in TAP schools will be determined by individual and/or school-wide growth, skills, knowledge and responsibilities.

In addition, in non-TAP schools, the performance award calculation includes a "high needs school metric," which is designed to support and encourage stable, effective teaching and leadership in high needs schools.  This component of the Teacher and Administrator Performance Incentive is meant to create balance with the TEAM summative evaluation rating. TEAM includes a 15% component that can be based on absolute student achievement, rather than on academic growth.  Currently, absolute achievement is highly correlated with socio-economic background.  As such, schools with students from more affluent families tend to have better outcomes on state assessments. This reality provides the opportunity for teachers in those schools to have a potential advantage, as high achievement scores can be included in the summative evaluation calculation. 

Since 70% of the APEX performance incentive is based on the TEAM evaluation and 15% of the TEAM summative rating can be based on absolute student achievement, it is mathematically correct to say that 10.5% of the performance incentive can be impacted by absolute student achievement.  Absolute student achievement results favors those teaching in schools with students from more affluent families.  The high needs school metric, based on the percent of free-reduced lunch students in the school, accounts for 10% of the APEX performance incentive determination.  Thus, the high needs school metric essentially provides a balance to the potential advantage of teachers in schools that serve more affluent communities.  Without this component, there may be a financial enticement for an effective teacher to leave a high needs school, which is the exact opposite of the intended outcomes articulated in our Theory of ActionDownload more information on TEAM Teacher Effectiveness Rating and Teacher Scenarios.


Will teachers have the opportunity for career growth?

The APEX system was designed to provide a robust teacher leadership and support structure. Through a school-based application process, classroom teachers will have the opportunity to be selected to serve as lead teachers. In this role, they will provide instructional support and coaching to peers through classroom observations within Tennessee’s new formal evaluation process—the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM). Key qualifications for being selected include demonstrated teaching effectiveness and leadership abilities, and these teachers must also obtain TAP® observer certification. Lead teachers will earn a supplement to their base salary of $2,000 or $2,500 annually, complete TEAM evaluation training and receive a training stipend. There are also Master and Mentor teachers at TAP schools. In all, there are nearly 300 formal teacher leadership roles in the district as a result of APEX and TAP, providing many options for teachers to grow in their careers and better support students.


I thought we embraced Professional Learning Communities to increase collaboration and collegiality among teachers. Won’t strategic compensation just create destructive competition?

Any incentive structure must be carefully developed to reinforce collaboration, substantive achievement, and long-term student growth and achievement. The Knox County Schools thoughtfully designed a plan that balances individual accountability with team and school-wide goals. We have aligned the plan with our values around collaboration and teamwork. Ultimately, we expect and believe that our schools will become more collaborative as result of elements incorporated into TEAM and APEX.


The district and state already have so many new initiatives that we have to undertake. Why are we pursuing this plan now?

With the new teacher evaluation framework and increased accountability for teachers, we believe these increased expectations should be coupled with opportunities for increased compensation. Moreover, we are evaluating how all systems in our schools operate with an eye toward continuous improvement. Through Race to the Top and Innovation Acceleration Fund, the district was fortunate to secure more than $10 million in federal competitive-grant funding to use in the design and implementation of a district-wide strategic compensation plan. Our plan has been approved by the KCS Board of Education and Tennessee State Board of Education. Therefore, we will begin full implementation this academic year (2011–2012 school year). The grant funding is available over the next three to five years, with a goal of incorporating APEX in our general operating budget if proven successful.


How will a strategic compensation system benefit the district?

The APEX system has been designed around our most important goal: to increase student learning. While efforts have been made to recruit the best and brightest educational professionals, we are also focusing on supporting the professional growth and continuous improvement of our existing teacher workforce. As part of KCS’ comprehensive improvement efforts, the APEX system promotes four major objectives, all integral to the success of our five-year strategic plan, Building on Strength: Excellence for All Children, to develop a system in which all students achieve at high levels and every school is a school of distinction: 1. Student Success, 2. Effective Instruction, 3. Teacher Leadership and 4. Support for High-Needs Schools). Our system focuses on instructional support, professional development and outcomes with regard for the inputs and practices that we know impact student results.


How is the district funding the APEX strategic compensation system?

Through Race to the Top, Innovation Acceleration Fund, and the Teacher Incentive Fund (“TIF”), the district received more than $10 million in federal grant funding to use in the design and implementation of the strategic compensation system. Because we are committed to an enduring model that will be supported over time to leverage student growth in our schools, we have carefully tested the APEX system against various fiscal considerations. If proven successful, the district will seek to incorporate APEX into the general operating budget at the conclusion of the grant funding.


Is there any flexibility to adjust the plan after implementation?

After we submitted our plan proposal to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDE) on June 15, outside evaluators (TN-CRED) and other TDE representatives worked to determine that APEX will positively impact human capital factors and, ultimately, student outcomes. The plan was approved by the State Board of Education on August 5, 2011, but the district will continually evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as it is executed. If during the implementation process the district finds plan elements to be cumbersome, ineffective or produce unintended consequences, we will have an opportunity to adjust and improve. This will be an on-going conversation, in which we will invite the feedback of all stakeholders.


How can teachers and other staff provide feedback, and how will our feedback be used?

Just as our APEX design and development process was broad-based, open and transparent, the implementation of APEX is intended to incorporate feedback loops. Please visit the website at www.APEX.knoxschools.org or talk with your principal or supervisor with any questions, comments or suggestions. Moreover, there will be opportunities to respond to surveys throughout the year.  Look for the first electronic survey opportunity starting November 2, 2011, via your school email account.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions, and they will be considered for incorporation in ongoing system improvements when possible.


How will I know about any APEX updates? How will the district keep me in the loop?

The district will be providing updates to teachers and other staff through email, e-newsletters and automated phone messages. Additionally, there will be a variety of meetings to build awareness and understanding for the new system, like the town hall meetings held on August 25, August 30, and September 8 to start the school year. (You can access recordings of these meetings in the Videos section of this website.)  Principals will also be sharing information with their building staffs periodically, as appropriate.


What are key dates that I need to remember for APEX eligibility and awards?

• Spring 2012: Inquiry and Resolution Committee nomination and selection (quarterly meetings)
• April 2012: Public discussion of potential updates to the plan (e.g. instructional assistants)
• Summer 2012: Award estimates for 2011-2012 school year released to staff
• August – September 2012: Inquiry/appeal submission and review period
• November 2012: Award payout period


How can I learn more?

We encourage you to visit our website at www.APEX.knoxschools.org for up-to-date information about the APEX strategic compensation system.
Last Updated: 10/26/11
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