Published: Sep 27, 2012 9:26 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 28, 2012 12:43 AM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Lee County Public Schools announced it will get millions of dollars to completely redesign how they help high-need schools and keep great teachers in the classrooms.

The district will receive Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) Grant of $17.6 million dollars for 2 years, and a possible $45.2 million dollars over 5 years. "It's a incredible opportunity for our district," Lee County Teacher's Association President Mark Castellano said. "We were very, very excited when we got the news today like, wow, we got 17 million dollars guaranteed for 2 years, and then, the chance to renew this thing for up to 5 years. That's huge."

The Federal grant money will help 32 schools struggling with high poverty as well as declines in improvement and performance. It will put more highly-rated teachers in these high-need schools, and increase the number of qualified teachers in hard-to-staff subjects like math, science, and special education.

"Now we have a mechanism which is going to enhance that and allow us to spread the best and brightest of what we have already," East Zone Administrator Gregory Adkins said.

Nearly half of all teachers in Lee County leave the profession after only 5 years. This money will be an incentive to stay. Teacher leaders will get $10,000, in addition to their salaries, to mentor new teachers, and teachers in need of improvement. Those who teach high-need subjects in high-need schools will also receive bonus pay.

"The goal is that those teacher leaders will help those teachers they are working with to excel and become highly-effective," Grants Coordinator Terri Kinsey said.

"The teachers that see these lead teachers and mentor teachers in action, and try to work with them, are going to have the opportunity to really see some incredible, creative teaching," Castellano said. "We need to infuse the creativity back into the classroom, because that's what gets kids turned on."

The $17 million dollars is guaranteed for the first 2 years. The additional 3 years are contingent upon Congress approving the funds. The method for choosing teachers for this program has not yet been determined.