PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — West Ottawa Public Schools is increasing salaries for first year teachers as part of a new district initiative.

Claire Fewell is a second-year first grade teacher at West Ottawa Public School’s Great Lakes Elementary. As she looked to begin her career in an education, pay was on the front of her mind.

“You grow up thinking, ‘I want to be a teacher when I grow up, that’s a profession I want to get into,’ and you have so many people saying, ‘Oh that’s great, but have you thought about the pay?'” Fewell said.

Starting pay for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree at West Ottawa is currently around $42,000 a year. It’s a figure that school officials wanted to address in their strategic plan, which was released last spring.

“The bottom portion of our pay scale we felt was not commensurate with the work that our teachers are doing each and every day,” said Todd Tulgestke, the associate superintendent at West Ottawa Public Schools.

The school district recently announced a new initiative known as the 50K Project, bumping starting teacher pay to a minimum of $50,000 a year starting this fall.

“Through some of our research we believe it’s probably only the second in the state of Michigan to set that floor,” Tulgestke said.

The 50K Project also includes additional compensation for all teaching staff, with a focus on increasing compensation for those that are in the early stages of their career. Tulgestke said the new pay scale will be crucial in retaining and attracting talented educators.

“Colleges of education across the country have seen declines in the number of students going into teaching,” Tulgestke said. “We saw this as an opportunity to really set ourselves apart in recruiting the best and brightest teachers.”

Fewell, whose pay will increase due to the initiative, said it makes her feel valued.

“What a way to say that, ‘We see you and we see that you show up every day and we see that you strive and work hard for all kids,'” she said.

Fewell currently commutes from Grand Rapids to the Holland area each day. She said the 50K Project will go a long way in helping teachers like herself make Holland home.

“It’s going to allow people to work in Holland and also live in Holland and be successful in Holland, and can be in Holland long-term,” she said.

The West Ottawa Education Association also worked with the district on the initiative.

According to the most recent data from the National Education Association, the average starting pay for a teacher in Michigan was just under $38,000 per year in 2021.