Educator’s View: To Truly Appreciate Teachers, Schools Must Give Them Generous Pay, Opportunity to Grow & Autonomy. How My Charter Network Is Doing Just That

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Teaching is a rewarding and challenging job — a career not for the faint of heart. Teachers pour their hearts and souls into their classroom to give each student an opportunity. Over the years teaching has morphed into an even bigger job in education — teachers are counselors, confidants, caregivers, nurses and sometimes parent figures.

Since the pandemic hit, everything in education has gotten so much harder.

Over the last two years, teachers have faced enormous challenges. They have provided social-emotional support to students who lost family members. They have switched at a moment’s notice to online learning, taken temperatures, isolated from loved ones when COVID struck their classrooms and persevered through illness themselves. All this on top of their primary purpose: to educate children.

As a result of this pressure from the pandemic, many college graduates are choosing not to pursue careers in education. But I believe we are at a unique moment in time to fix this and not only recognize teachers for the professionals they are, but also pay them what they rightly deserve.

As a CEO of a charter school network in Denver, I’m committed to providing the best place for teachers who are committed to upholding the school’s values and for all students to realize

their full potential through a rigorous and loving elementary education. While I know that money isn’t the reason anyone goes into education, I have heard loud and clear through surveys and listening sessions that compensation needs to be more competitive for teachers.

Rocky Mountain Prep has overhauled the entire compensation schedule for all lead teachers for the 2022-23 year so it is higher than surrounding school districts’. This is a multimillion-dollar investment that recognizes there is no greater impact on students than the quality of the teacher at the head of the classroom.

The first change is to the salary scale. Compensation aligns with years of experience and is incredibly competitive for the Metro Denver market. For example, first-year lead teachers at Rocky Mountain Prep will go from a base salary in 2022 of $47,250 to $52,000 in 2023. By comparison, first-year lead teachers earn $47,291 in Denver Public Schools and $43,471 in Aurora Public Schools.

The second change is recognizing teachers who work in Title I schools, serving the children most affected by poverty. In addition to existing stipends, Rocky Mountain Prep is adding a $2,000-a-year bonus for all lead teachers at each Title I school. 

The biggest change is the introduction of the PEAK Teacher program, which will award extra compensation and opportunities to educators who exemplify Rocky Mountain Prep’s core values: Perseverance, Excellence, Adventure and Kindness. Too often, teachers leave the classroom because other careers offer what education doesn’t: generous pay, opportunity to grow and develop, and autonomy. For the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, we will recognize our network’s 16 top-performing teachers, who offer both the rigor kids need in order to achieve the highest levels possible and the love that is essential for inspiring children to do their best.

These educators will receive salaries of $80,000 to $110,000 per year. They will each get their own professional development budget to spend as they see fit, the opportunity to weigh in on key network-wide decisions, recognition at all-network events and a special dinner and celebration in their honor.

PEAK Teachers will serve as ambassadors of the vision of Rocky Mountain Prep at their schools and play important roles in speaking to members of the broader Denver community about education and the work happening in our classrooms.

Such salaries and perks would be seen as simply expected for those who excel in their work in other professions. Yet in education, they are nearly unheard of. The best teachers deserve more than a “Best Teacher” mug and discounts at stores. They deserve to be paid like the hardworking, skilled, talented professionals they are.

Tricia Noyola is CEO of Rocky Mountain Prep.

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