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Unique Bonus System For Teachers Turns Around Wilson School's Reputation

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WILSON, N.C. — Teachers and students have their work cut out for them as they return for the school year.

Seven more local districts re-opened Wednesday. Recent test scores show they have some studying to do.

More than half of the state's school systems failed to meet new federal guidelines. Unlike the

ABCs Accountability Model

which focuses on improvement only, the

No Child Left Behind Act

focuses on students meeting goals.

A big part of that success involves having qualified teachers.

Many schools are scrambling to fill spots, and experience is a hot commodity. But a unique partnership in Wilson County is turning a troubled school into the envy of the district.

Teachers like Melba Fulghum are a big reason Vick Elementary has a turnaround story to tell. Just a couple years ago, the school had a bad reputation

"It was a school where no one wanted to work," Fulghum said. "So you couldn't recruit qualified teachers to this school setting."

Now, teaching at Vick is a tough job to get. That is because

Standard Commercial Tobacco,

a private Wilson company, is sponsoring a performance bonus to attract experienced teachers.

So, last year, Fulghum left an academically successful school for Vick.

"When I heard the bonus was waiting for me, and I would do the very same job," she said, "I decided to come."

In all, 23 teachers at Vick Elementary will get the $2,500 bonus from Standard Commercial. Add that to the Federal and state bonuses, and teachers will get an extra $3,800 this year.

"With the bonus in place," Fulghum said, "it has given the teachers a push -- just something to go on, to say: 'I'm going to be rewarded for my efforts, as well.'"

It is paying off. Ninety percent of the students at Vick are at grade level, making it a Distinguished School. A year earlier, only two-thirds of the students made the grade.

Standard Commercial committed $200,000 for three years of bonuses. WRAL checked with several state education agencies, and it appears this is the first privately funded bonus program in the state.

Salary supplements from the state can go as high as $17,000.

That is the maximum amount that can be given to teachers in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. According to the

North Carolina Association of Educators

, Wake County teachers can get as much as $13,000. Compare that to districts like Wilson County, where about $2,800 is the maximum amount.


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