Knoxville teachers check out Google Expeditions during a training session.

The state initiative the put an added emphasis on utilizing teachers to mentor other teachers at the district level has been fully implemented in Marion County.

The Teacher Leadership and Compensation system began three years ago, and has slowly rolled out to districts as they became ready. The results have thus far been positive, both state-wide and locally.

Pella was among the first batch of schools in the state to be approved into the program. The remaining local schools — Knoxville, Pleasantville, Melcher-Dallas, and Twin Cedars — all are currently in their first years.

The Iowa Department of Education, in a December report, outlined some initial findings of an interim study into the program. The TLC initiative was first signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2013. The first wave into the program included 39 school districts for the 2014-15 school year, and 76 in the 2015-16 year.

The analysis by the Department of Education into the first 39 districts, who were onto the second of the program, said it’s too soon to determine just how much of an impact the initiative has had on students. As a whole, the test scores of students in those 39 districts actually had slightly less improvement on their assessments than students who were not at districts approved into the TLC program.

“The difference is small, but statistically significant,” the report, compiled by the American Institutes for Research, said. “The difference translates into approximately one to two points on Iowa assessments that span about 200 points.”

Still, Ryan Wise, Iowa Department of Education director, said he felt the program was heading in the right direction.

“Iowa’s teacher leadership system is about supporting the complex work of teaching so that teachers can do their best work, which will position students to do their best work,” Wise said. “The investment we’ve made in Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System will have a lasting return over the long term. This interim report shows we’re heading in the right direction and, at the same time, a lot of work lies ahead.”

The system, as of the current 2016-17 school year, is implemented at all of Iowa’s public schools. Funding from the state will be $150 million annually, which is paid separate of other school funding mechanisms like the oft-debated supplemental state aid or property tax levies.

According to the Department of Education, one in four Iowa teachers is in a leadership role. The TLC program required districts to apply with their vision and goals for the program before they were accepted in three phases. A yearly selection process is required for those in the TLC positions.

There are various job titles that fall under TLC positions, from lead and model teachers, to instructional coaches, curriculum leaders, technology integrationists and others.

A statewide TLC survey is underway from the Iowa Department of Education. The survey closes April 7 and is being conducted by the American Institutes for Research.


The Knoxville School district is midway through their first year in the program. Some minor changes will be made for next year, but overall they are happy with their program as it was first implemented.

“I would say all of our teacher leadership positions have served us very well,” Pearson said. “From our building leadership and district leadership teams, to our mentors, to our instructional coaches, technology integrationists. We’re looking at making a few tweaks for next year, but for the most part everything will stay pretty close to the way we had designed it.”

Knoxville includes positions from district and building leaders, but also have added in two technology integrations that coach teachers, but also at times work with students too, on educational applications for technology. There are also dedicated instructional coaches at each building in the district.


Pella, the only Marion County School in the first wave granted for the 2014-15 school year, says approximately 30 percent of their staff, or roughly 40, are in leadership roles.

Some TLC positions are dedicated roles, where all the individual does is spend time with teachers. Many others still teach students all or part of the school day.

“It’s a lot,” superintendent Greg Ebeling said. “The people that are actually pulled out of the classroom for all or a part of their day, there’s seven probably. So seven people that are pulled out a part of their day or all of their day. ... We hired people in to replace their teaching assignment.”

All teachers in various roles are compensated accordingly, including those who are filling the TLC positions alongside full or mostly full class schedules, too.

“They receive compensation for it, but there’s also extra work involved,” Lowell Ernst, director of K-12 instruction, said. “So that’s a credit to them to step up and do those things because it’s compensation, but it’s not that much. They’re really doing it because they feel like they can make a difference.”

Part of the goal is getting teachers to stay in the field. Many new teachers are in positions for five years, then leave the profession.

“The reality is that 45 percent of new teachers in this country don’t last five years,” Lowell said. “That’s the goal, is to get them to stay not only with us, but to stay in the profession.”

To help do this, a mentor will be assigned with a new teacher. From there, weekly check-ins will begin.

“They meet with a new teacher weekly,” Lowell said. “They come to training with them monthly, then eventually get them to the point where we say we start out as a consultant.”

The end goal is moving new teachers from dependency to independence.

“They [mentors, coaches] try really hard to try and be a colleague with them. Not just a consultant.”

Lowell said the TLC program and individuals involved in Pella have helped him with implementation of the district’s curriculum. No longer is one person communicating everything to the more than 180 staff at Pella.

“For me to try to do that with 180 people, it spreads you think to do it effectively,” Lowell said. “But now, I’ve got people that are focused on just this one area with these teachers and I think that really helps to give them someone to have answers to their questions and also someone who’s doing it right alongside them.”

Pella receives a little more than $650,000 from the state for the program, according to Ebeling.


Dr. Tony Aylsworth, superintendent at Pleasantville Schools, feels the district has made some good progress with the TLC program in their first school year with it.

“I think, like with most districts, we hit some real home runs with our TLC program,” Aylsworth said. “We also have some things that I think we will go back to the drawing board on and kind of reshuffle the deck a little bit.”

The district hired two instructional coaches, and still have around 20 other teachers involved that also do classroom instruction in addition to their TLC duties.

Aylsworth said the TLC program has helped with perception, largely because their two instructional coaches wasted little time getting started this year.

“The areas where I am seeing the most return on investment are from a perception level,” Aylsworth said. “We hired two outstanding instructional coaches. Those people are pulled out of the classroom full-time and are available to work with teachers. Both of those two teachers are doing an outstanding job — they hit the ground running.”

“Anytime we hire a teacher in their first or second year, we recognize that there has to be some mentoring and induction into our system,” Aylsworth continued. “This is the way we do things in Pleasantville.”


A total of four teachers are in the TLC program for Melcher-Dallas, a district of around 340 students. In addition, there are four lead teachers — two each at the high school and elementary school.

“I do have some reservations,” superintendent Randy Alger said. “ ... Because sometimes you take your top teachers — your ‘A-team,’ and they are out of the classroom and I would rather them be in the classroom. ... They circulate the teachers throughout the school district to help support our other teachers. They are losing class time, which I would rather them be in the classroom.”

That said, Alger said he liked turning things back over to the teachers and allowing them to take ownership.

“I do like the idea that we are turning it back over to the teachers to work with the program,” Alger said. “It’s more meaningful when they take the ownership. I think the teachers take a little more time to reflect on the data when they take the ownership.”


Superintendent Dave Roby reports things are going well for Twin Cedars’ first year with TLC.

“I like the plan we have put together,” Roby said. “This is the first we have implemented it. Like anything else, while you’re in it, you think, ‘Maybe we can do this next year.’ ... We’ll tweak it along the way to make it better.”

For Twin Cedars, much like the state in general, it’s too early to tell exactly what the value will be.

“We have great people doing great things,” Roby said. “We’ll sit down at the end of the year, and we’ll evaluate. ... TLC can do great things, but it is too early to say.”

Kyle Ocker is the managing editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express. He can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-842-2155. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

Nicole Presley is the managing editor of the Pella Chronicle. She can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-828-3882. Follow her on Twitter @NicolePresley92.

Ethan Goetz is a general assignment reporter at the Knoxville Journal-Express and Pella Chronicle. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ethan_Goetz.

Kyle Ocker has been the editor of the Knoxville Journal Express since November 2016. He formerly held the titles of sports editor and associate editor at the Centerville Daily Iowegian, a sister paper to the Journal Express.

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