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Preschool Teachers Earn Up to $9K in Retention Bonsues in California Schools

Dorothy Stewart knows that her preschool teachers love their students—but also that love alone won't anchor them to her school community forever.

So, in a field that generally offers low pay and, as a result, suffers from high turnover, Stewart prompts institutional stability at her three Old Firehouse Schools in her affluent East Bay and North Bay, Calif., communities by offering instructors upwards of $9,000 in retention bonuses over the course of four years.

"Most schools have 30 to 40 percent turnover," each year she said, adding that she aims to build a fleet of teachers which stays with specific groups of children from their enrollment until they graduate the program. "The most important thing for a child is continuity of care and stability."

Stewart assigns teachers a cohort of babies and pays instructors $1,000 per year, per child to stay with the group, gradually adding a few children each year to expand the cohort as the children age. Those bonuses are not rolled into tuition, but are an additional expense paid by families, she said.

When the students turn 4 years old and graduate from her preschools, the educators start over with a new group of babies.

Researchers from Guatemala and Sweden have come to observe Stewart's schools and see her Staff Stability Plan for themselves, she said.

The program is not cheap: Tuition for a toddler enrolled for 8.5 hours seven days per week is $1,875 per month—in addition to the $1,075 staff retention fee. Those with preschoolers pay $1,140 plus the staff retention fee; families who opt to enroll their children in developmental kindergarten pay $1,155 plus the retention bonus.

"I believe in the theory of attachment," she said. "I wanted to show what quality would look like."

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