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We’ve empathized with public school teachers who hear their classroom work condemned session after legislative session by lawmakers eager for change, but not quite clear on what’s going in inside Iowa schools.

Today, we celebrate the arrival of more than $6 million annually in our community to pay more to teachers who identify and build on classroom successes already under way in Davenport and Bettendorf school districts. Those districts are among 39 Iowa districts awarded extra state funds to build mentoring programs.

Davenport will get $5 million and Bettendorf $1.2 million each year to boost salaries of top teachers who will train their less-experienced peers. Instead of using state funds to inflict a new system, this money rewards current leadership and identifies success stories that can help schools across Iowa.

“The key to this whole thing is that we’re not doing anything differently. But now we’re going to be able to have a support system to help us do the things we’re already doing,” Davenport curriculum director Julie Staszewski told Times education reporter Tara Becker.

Too often, education reform ignores local innovation and control. Legislation dubbed “reform” launched Iowa’s extensive preschool system, then scaled it back to voluntary, then most recently, boosted funding again.

Schools are still struggling with No Child Left Behind, the federal reform with a wrong-headed fixation on test scores. Instead of revamping the program, some districts have been awarded waivers that get them out from under some of the program’s most heavy-handed intrusions.

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Under the new mentoring program, the districts’ best teachers will get mentoring duties and appropriate compensation. This is reform at the most appropriate level.

“The new system will provide unprecedented levels of teacher leadership support within each of our attendance centers in the coming years, with the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement,” Bettendorf Superintendent Theron Schutte said.

One hundred forty-six of Iowa’s 346 public school districts applied for these mentoring funds. Grant awards went to 39, or 11 percent of those districts.

That makes Davenport and Bettendorf students winners for years to come.

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