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Raising our standards

February 15, 2004|by Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner

We were recently asked by a Herald-Mail reporter the following question: "Given the competitive teacher market, what do you think should be done to recruit and retain teachers?" Certainly recruiting and retaining excellent teachers must always remain a priority, but it is one on which the Board of Education has already made steady and significant progress.

In 2001, during interviews with Dr. Betty Morgan for the position of interim superintendent, the board clearly expressed its desire to urgently pursue efforts to address this matter. Within her first three months, Morgan responded by establishing the Recruit, Develop, Reward and Retain Committee. This group defined the problem, identified contributing factors, suggested recommendations and developed a time line for implementation.

Based on the results of the RDRR, the Washington County Board of Education has sought to recruit and retain excellent teachers in a multifaceted approach. Most significantly, we increased the starting teacher salary from $29,926 in 2000-2001 to $35,000 in 2003-2004. This made our system more competitive with neighboring jurisdictions and improved our rank for starting salary from 18th in the state to sixth.

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We are proud that we have helped to strengthen Washington County's ability to attract top-rate college graduates. The BOE has plans to address the rest of the pay scale in the near future. Adequate compensation is a must to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

To address the need for strong professional development for our teachers, the BOE eliminated the Staff Development Department and created the Center for Peak Performance and Productivity. This office is responsible for coordinating countywide staff development, conducting MSDE Credit Courses, providing mentors for first- and second-year teachers and hosting numerous workshops on a variety of topics. This office is also responsible for helping teachers develop teaching materials and obtain necessary resources.

This past summer, the center provided a two-week New Teacher Academy to orient and familiarize 144 new teachers with our curriculum, testing protocols and intervention strategies. Policies and expectations were explained, resource materials were distributed and each teacher received several weeks of prepared lesson plans. All teachers who participated said they found the presenters to be knowledgeable and the experience beneficial. Providing teachers with world-class professional development and necessary resources to excel in teaching students has helped our system recruit and retain teachers.

Creating a positive work environment for teachers is important to retain our excellent teachers. For this reason, Morgan and the BOE established the Positive Changes for Elementary Classroom Group. Teachers were invited to share their concerns through the appropriate channels, encouraged to brainstorm possible solutions and supported as they implemented those changes. This group was extremely effective in bringing about changes suggested by teachers. As a result, extraneous record-keeping was eliminated, portfolio record keeping was simplified and initiatives were implemented to address chronically disruptive students.

Also, some classroom teacher responsibilities were shifted to others. For example, the classroom teachers no longer teach the health curriculum, and instructional assistants now scan all assessments.

The Teacher Career Ladder is an innovative approach to attracting and retaining teachers. This model was designed to provide salary and career advancements for teachers who want to stay in the classroom and do what they do best - teach children. This new system of compensation takes into account differentiated responsibilities, skill levels, accountability levels, outstanding performance and student outcomes.

By choosing to take on additional responsibilities or difficult assignments, teachers can move between the four levels, which are novice teacher, career teacher, advanced teacher and distinguished teacher. For the first time, due to the salary differential, teachers are competing for difficult assignments. We believe that the Career Ladder provides teachers with more flexibility and enables them to determine their career path.

In cooperation with the public information office, the human resource department has overhauled its recruiting materials. The new materials celebrate the wonderful opportunities found in Washington County and also showcase the many historical, cultural and recreational attributes of the Tri-State area. WCPS has also increased its efforts to attend more college fairs known for producing excellent teachers. In addition to "exit interviews" we recommended, "stay interviews" with our teachers at various points in their careers.

Currently, the retirement system for the state of Maryland is ranked 50th out of 50 states. One of the most effective strategies to retain excellent teachers is to improve the retirement of which they are a part. We have addressed the issue with the members of the Washington County legislative delegation and have ask them for their assistance on this issue and encourage others to join us in advocating for better retirement benefits for our teachers who commit their professional lives to the students of Washington County.




Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner are members of the Washington County School Board.

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