Photo: Courtesy of The Equity Project
Teachers at The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School in Washington Heights, New York, earn a salary of $125,000 a year.Yes, you read that correctly.
TEP operates on the same allocated money as other public schools in New York City. The only fundraising it does is for the new building that it hopes to start construction on soon.
Yet the charter school, which opened in the fall of 2009 and covers fifth through seventh grade, pays teachers $125,000 a year and the man in charge thinks it’s completely normal.
“If research shows teachers are the most important resource in student growth and outcome, why are we not investing in it?” said Zeke Vanderhoek, who wrote the charter for the school and is the principal of TEP. “We at TEP want to serve as a model of how to attract, retain, and treat teachers.”
When the school opened three years ago, it created buzz around the salary it offered teachers. Now, Vanderhoek said he believes teachers come to TEP realising that the school has set out to change the way the education system works, and it’s not just about the money.
Why TEP Pays Teachers $125,000 A Year
The teaching profession draws from the bottom third of college graduates, Vanderhoek said. While summers off are appealing, the standard teacher salary isn’t much of a draw for America’s most intellectual.
“By investing in teachers, we signify to society at large that teachers are actually valued, and we transform who goes into teaching,” Vanderhoek said. “Offer a competitive salary, and it becomes a more attractive profession to talented people.”
By offering the unheard-of amount of $125,000 a year, TEP hopes to attract a large pool of “master” teachers who are willing to take on the challenge of teaching in an urban school district.
Like most schools in low-income communities, TEP struggles to keep the majority of its students’ test scores at or above grade level. Many of the students don’t speak English as their first language, and 90 per cent of them are on the reduced/free lunch program. These cultural issues provide a hurdle for teachers, and a job at TEP is not for the faint of heart or someone just looking for a six-figure salary, Vanderhoek said.
How TEP Makes Ends Meet
Everyone at TEP is a multi-tasker. There are 34 full-time people on staff—24 of whom are teachers. That ratio is extremely unusual when compared to other public schools, Vanderhoek said.
The assistant principal is also the seventh grade maths teacher. The only other administrators aside from Vanderhoek are a director of finance, an office manager, and four social workers.
There are no guidance counselors and no instructional coaches, and the maintenance and cleaning staffs are all contracted. By keeping the staff small, and making everyone take on a bit more work, resources can be allocated to the teachers’ high salaries.
“Every teacher here at TEP is expected to take on a secondary roll,” Vanderhoek said. “That’s how we keep costs so low. It gives the teachers a sense of ownership in the school, by taking on a role outside of the classroom.”
“There’s no doubt the salary is a draw, but in my opinion, the bigger part frankly is what the salary signifies,” Vanderhoek continued. “The salary creates a community of very talented teachers. Talent wants to be around talent, and talented people want to grow. The best way to do that is be around talented peers.”
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.