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Growing Exceptional Teachers scholarship program needs its own time to grow [Editorial]

A plan to offer four-year college scholarships to Harford County Public Schools graduates who will come back to their home county and teach in critical needs areas like math, science and special education, is an excellent idea, assuming it can be successfully implemented.

The Growing Exceptional Teachers Program, GET for short, was presented to and approved by the Harford County Board of Education earlier this month.

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In a nutshell, the plan is to give five scholarships annually, worth a total of $6,000 each, to graduating HCPS seniors, who will commit to a field of study in college that will qualify them to return to HCPS as certified teachers four years later. HCPS is specifically looking for critical needs area teachers, and has had trouble filling such vacancies in recent years, school officials say, pointing out other school districts in Maryland face the same issues.

Harford County is going to try alleviating future some teaching shortages by home growing its own exceptional teachers in areas such as math, science, career and technology and special education.

Those who enter the program will receive $1,000 for each of the first two years, $2,000 for each of the final two. They also receive some mentoring, substitute opportunities and, upon successful completion, a bump of one salary step when they start teaching full-time.

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It sounds like an excellent opportunity for prospective scholarship recipients and for HCPS. The program, however, won't get off the ground without financial support. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has committed the first $6,000 from his office; the remaining $144,000 to cover the planned five-year pilot will need to come from community organizations, businesses and individuals.

A couple of school board members noted that the goal is quite modest, as is the amount of each scholarship, and they wouldn't be surprised if more could be raised from the community. Given our community's record of support for local schools, that's probably true, but maybe also a little premature.

North Harford Middle School educator Sharalyn Heinly talks about winning the 2016 Harford County Teacher of the Year award.

A new program like this should be allowed to build, to gather momentum, so to speak, before massive commitments of resources are made. Start small and get bigger.

There's no question more teachers are needed, and this is a great incentive for those who are going to a state college – and who liked their own experiences with HCPS – to plan for a career and go for it.

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Keep in mind, though, that not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up on the day they are handed their high school diploma. There are many great teachers in this and other public school systems who came to the job later in life, maybe out of college, but also after another career or teaching in another setting.

Five teachers are new at Churchville Elementary School in Harford County this year, among the more than 2,900 HCPS teachers who are getting reading for the first day of school Thursday. The school system has hired 277 teachers to replace those who left after last year and has about 20 vacancies to fill before Thursday's first day of classes.

We definitely see the GET program as a recruitment tool for HCPS and a potential reward for the school system's students who already know they want to teach.

The program is set up for five years, after which it could just end or be re-evaluated and continued. We think it will work. We think it will produce great teachers. But let's give GET the chance to show it can, before we pronounce it a success.

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