More student clubs are popping up at Blair Oaks Intermediate School, and one of the reasons is a newly adopted program known as Career Ladder.
Career Ladder provides stipends of up to $5,000 to participating teachers who complete a certain number of hours of extra work, including tutoring, club sponsorship, professional development, test prep and other activities.
After more than a decade without state funding, legislators revived the Career Ladder program in 2022, offering districts the chance to participate if they would foot 40 percent of the cost, with the state picking up the rest of the tab.
Although it didn't opt in for 2022, Blair Oaks School District has done so this year. The district had participated in Career Ladder for many years in the past, and when state funding was cut, the district decided to continue paying the few teachers who were involved. New participants were not accepted, and the teachers received only the local portion of the funds for their work. This year, Blair Oaks opened up participation using state funding of about $98,000.
Thirteen teachers at the intermediate school have been tracking Career Ladder hours.
Some have used it for coaching or sponsorship of extracurricular activities, like the new Media Club or Book Club.
"And I definitely don't think either of those would have come to be without Career Ladder," Principal Tracey Burns said.
The compensation can make supervising a club or offering tutoring more worthwhile to teachers.
"You have to plan, go out and purchase materials, and then (give) up the hour each time, so a lot of that adds up of our own time," said fifth-grade teacher Rachel Schulte, a sponsor of the Book Club. "So without being kind of compensated for the time, I don't think that there'd be as many clubs available to the students."
Fourth-grade teacher Kelsey Luebbert, a sponsor of the Media Club, said Career Ladder was "absolutely" a key piece of the formation of the club.
"If we didn't have the Career Ladder, it probably would not have taken place," she said. "The kids are absolutely enjoying it."
Teachers can make their own plan for their hours, Burns said, but at least half of their hours must involve contact with students, a requirement that is more stringent than the state's.
Teachers have offered tutoring in reading and math, which has expanded tutoring offerings in the school. Some teachers have led study sessions, and a learning specialist has been able to work with students in special education to prepare for assessments.
"I would like to see it continue to be funded," Burns said. "I think that's the thing that's tricky, is that the state funds a portion of it, and then the school's responsible for the other. And if they don't provide that funding, we just simply can't afford to do that."
"I see a really positive effect at my level for how students are benefiting from it," Burns added.