Rochester placed itself on the education reform map in 1987 when the school district gave its teachers a substantial salary increase.The 40 percent pay raise over three years increased the average teacher salary to $43,000. The starting salary is now about $28,000 and "lead teachers," who take on greater responsibility, earn from $50,000 to $57,000, according to departing superintendent Peter McWalters. Since 1987, the district has seen a 50 percent increase in applicants. "This salary dis- cussion made people say, 'Maybe I want to teach - in Rochester, he says. Although attention has focused on the issue of teacher pay, the Rochester schools are promoting change in several other directions, according to Mr. McWalters. Examples include school-based planning, "shared accountability" that outlines increased teacher responsibility for student performance, peer review among teachers, and greater involvement of parents as equals. Restructuring the public schools in this industrial city of 240,000 people hasn't been a smooth process. The district's 2,600 teachers went without a contract from September 1990 to April of this year. During that time, "the teachers pulled back from the planning tables. They actually acted like just coming in and doing their job in the classroom meets the test. Last year was a lost year. We lost the confidence of the students, we lost the confidence of the parents. I haven't seen the final results, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are [student] performance blips," he says. Although 70 percent of the students in Rochester schools are black and Hispanic, the teaching force is 75 percent white and generally commutes from the suburbs.
A three-part series on school management issues, 'Big City Schools, Turmoil at the Top,' ran in the LEARNING section on June 13, 14, and 17.