Gov. Terry E. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck on Monday announced the first group of Iowa school districts selected to launch teacher leadership systems next school year.

Colo-Nesco was one of the first 39 school districts selected to receive a grant. Superintendent Dr. Jim Verlengia said the grant monies received by the school will allow the district to expand the roles and impact classroom teachers — which research shows play the most critical role in a student’s academic success — can have from beyond their classroom to the entire educational system.

"I would like to recognize Ms. Becky Slater, our instructional coach, for the excellent work she did in leading this effort. It is her passion, diligence, attention to detail and expertise that provided the framework for a successful application," Verlengia said. He added that all the district’s teachers and over 30 community members provided feedback and direction during the application writing process. "Their input and commitment to the vision of what this grant could do were instrumental in providing the direction needed to script the difference this funding could do for our students."

Top teachers taking on leadership roles to improve instruction and raise student achievement is the centerpiece of Iowa’s landmark 2013 education reform package. New teacher leadership systems across Iowa will allow teachers to work in greater collaboration with colleagues and learn from each other instead of operating largely in isolation in their classrooms. Teacher leadership systems will be phased in over three years, with the goal of all districts participating by 2016-17, although whether to do so is a local decision.

"Selection of this first group of school districts to launch teacher leadership systems is an important step forward as Iowans work to restore our schools to best in the nation," Branstad said. "Iowans are committed to giving students a world-class education. Better utilizing teacher leadership to leverage other reforms moves us in the right direction."

"We are pleased that 146 school districts applied to be in the first group," Reynolds said. "Great teaching is the most critical factor affecting learning inside schools, and the teacher leadership systems recognize that teacher collaboration can be a game-changer."

Recently, the Nevada School District discussed at a school board meeting its application and plans for this grant, but Nevada was not selected in this first round of recipient schools.

Based on the recommendations of the 19-member Commission on Teacher Leadership and Compensation, Director Buck selected 39 school districts out of 146 applicants from across the state. The districts – serving a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities to best reflect Iowa’s district landscape – enroll about one-third of Iowa students. Two of the districts will share teacher leadership systems. Selected districts are listed at the end of this press release.

Districts were selected for the first round based on the strength of their application, as well as geographic and size diversity.

"We wanted to make sure that the first round of districts represented the diversity of Iowa’s school system," Buck said. "The Commission accomplished this goal by setting a high quality bar, while also ensuring that this is truly a statewide initiative."

Teacher leadership systems promise to help students learn more by better meeting their individual needs. They also will attract and retain more effective teachers by enhancing career opportunities and paying stipends for taking on extra responsibilities. With higher expectations for students, it’s no longer realistic for one principal to provide all the instructional leadership in a school. Teacher-and-principal leadership teams can support the more complex work required to prepare students for a knowledge-based economy.

Districts that applied to start teacher leadership systems next fall were required to set a vision and goals for what they plan to accomplish. They also had to address "must-haves," such as setting a minimum teacher salary of $33,500; improved entry into the profession, including mentoring for new teachers; and a rigorous selection process for leadership roles.

Districts selected will receive about $309 per pupil next school year to implement their teacher leadership systems. The annual cost statewide is nearly $50 million in fiscal year 2015, growing to about $150 million annually by the third year.

The next step for school districts is selecting their teacher leaders. Branstad’s fiscal 2015 budget recommendations include $4 million for the Iowa Department of Education, working with Area Education Agencies, to provide technical assistance and leadership development for the districts in the first group implementing teacher leadership systems in 2014-15.