Top-performing staff at three Indianapolis charter schools to receive bonuses from anonymous donor

Two people on stage with white and blue balloons and a blue sheet for the background.
Bill Harris, chair of the board of directors for the United Schools of Indianapolis charter network, announced a $12.5 million anonymous donation to fund teacher merit pay on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat)

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Top-performing teachers at three Indianapolis charter schools will be eligible for hefty merit bonuses that top $40,000 — 80% of a teacher’s starting salary — for the highest-ranked teacher beginning this year, thanks to funding from an anonymous donor couple.

The surprise funding announced Friday will provide merit bonuses for the next 25 years for top-performing staff at Avondale Meadows Academy and Avondale Meadows Middle School in the Meadows neighborhood on the east side, and Vision Academy in the Riverside neighborhood on the west side — schools that are part of the United Schools of Indianapolis (USI) charter network. The network hopes the new funding will not only boost its current year-end bonus pool, but will serve as a strong recruitment and retention tool.

The donor couple, who remain anonymous to the network, launched a $12.5 million trust fund to help fund $500,000 in merit awards across all three schools annually. All staff — roughly 110 across the network — are eligible for the raises, and roughly a third will receive them each year. More weight will be given to classroom teachers, where the need for staffing is the greatest. The average bonus is expected to be $15,000 per teacher.

“I hope you know that the work you do in your classrooms is noticed,” Bill Harris, chair of the USI board of directors, told teachers during the surprise announcement on Friday at Avondale Meadows Middle School. “Your passion for teaching, the love you show our students, and your ability to think outside the box and push boundaries make a difference. Some community members have noticed and want to reward you for your efforts.”

The network currently distributes bonuses to all teachers based on their evaluation scores — extra pay that averaged about $1,500 to $1,800 last year, according to USI executive director Kelly Herron. This funding, however, will allow the schools’ higher-performing teachers to receive even more.

Staff must return to the network in order to receive the bonus, which will be paid out in the fall.

“We know that high-performing teachers who stay with the school for an extended period of time develop a much deeper understanding of their students’ strengths and challenges, allowing them to provide targeted interventions and personalized support,” Herron said during the announcement.

Bonuses will be awarded based on a staff member’s evaluation score, which considers professional responsibility, student achievement outcomes, and community engagement. Those scoring in the top 30% receive the bonus, which will be weighted depending on score.

Each year, the teacher in the top-performing slot will receive $40,000.

The starting teacher salary across the network is currently $50,000, almost on par with the starting salary for Indianapolis Public Schools, which sits at $51,900 this school year. USI schools are all independent charters not affiliated with IPS.

The announcement gave staff a sense of being recognized, said Karina Calvillo-Brown, an instructional coach at Vision Academy.

“I came into education around the time of the pandemic — so a lot of uncertainty — but I think it was also a time when the need for teachers and the realization of how much teachers do really came out for everyone that was at home,” she said. “I think over the years, people have started to recognize we do a lot. We wear a lot of hats in the classroom, in the building.”

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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