OUR OPINION: AEE boosts focus with $1,000 award

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s independent, private-sector Association for Excellence in Education on Tuesday announced a shift in its method of investing in the Tupelo Public School District – $25,000 allocated for 2011-2012 to incentivize individual teaching excellence with $1,000 awards for 24 teachers and one principal.
A majority of the AEE budget this year – about $85,000 – still will go to fund winning project grants submitted by teachers for special instructional effort, but AEE will begin evaluating its expenditure proportions each year, said President Brent Waldrop, a Tupelo banker.
This shift is a creative way of recognizing and rewarding teachers who go the extra mile for their students.
All teachers are eligible to apply regardless of experience level, tenure in the system or subjects taught. No incentive awards will be made without participating in the full application process, initiated by teachers.
Waldrop said AEE will use the same community-based evaluation process to select incentive recipients as has been used for awarding special project funds.
The incentives process evaluation will include an essay, a classroom DVD and a live classroom visit by evaluators. All teachers will be eligible to apply every year and to win multiple times.
“We want them to brag on themselves and document to us how good they are,” Waldrop said.
Waldrop said the organization, which is run by volunteer effort from among its hundreds of members, will seek special contributions to underwrite the incentives, naming the awards for the donors at the annual AEE awards day in the spring of 2012.
The $1,000 awards, which will be paid directly to winning teachers, does not have to be spent in the classroom. Waldrop noted, however, that many teachers provide classroom supplies and extras from their own pockets. He also said he hopes the cash award will encourage gifted younger teachers to apply and potentially increase their income.
Waldrop told the TPSD board of trustees at its Tuesday meeting the incentive level could go up to $50,000 in the 2012-2013 school year and perhaps to $75,000 in the 2013-2014 cycle.
AEE, founded in 1983, has invested about $2.7 million in private-sector funds in the teachers and classrooms of the Tupelo system, all projects for academic advancement.
Every dollar collected is donated to the Tupelo Public School District.
The historically used system of large and small grants will be changed to a single category of grants. The grants for projects have touched approximately 7,200 students in Pre-K through 12th grade with enhanced educational opportunity.
AEE was born of innovation, and the new focus extends the heritage to a new generation.