Teachers key to good schools in Baltimore


PROFICIENT TEACHERS are essential to making classrooms and schools hum with success, academic and otherwise.

Many comprehensive and authoritative studies confirm that teacher quality and experience strongly correlate to increases in student achievement. Attracting, retaining and valuing good teachers must therefore be part of school reform in Baltimore City.

Because capable teachers have many options today, we have to be able to compete equally, especially in the face of a national teacher shortage.

The challenge that the Baltimore City public school system faces is daunting. Currently, 2,047 of our 7,405 teachers, nearly 28 percent, are not certified. Though we are working hard to reduce this unacceptable percentage of uncertified teachers in our schools, we realize there are no quick fixes.

To attract the most promising people to consider teaching as a long-term professional career, we are providing much-improved recognition and reward.

Using money from the city-state partnership and the governor's Teacher Salary Challenge Program and other state, federal and local funds, we have increased our entrance salary for teachers from $28,449 (14th in the state) to $31,722 (fourth in the state).

Also, our teacher pay plan now reduces the number of years required to reach the maximum salary range for certified teachers from 27 to 20.

Equally pro-active is our strategy, effective July 1, to attract and retain new "critical needs" teachers who are certified by the State Department of Education in mathematics, science or special education by placing them on Step 4 of the established pay scale.

As encouragement to our new uncertified teachers to complete their certification requirements as quickly as possible, we will move any currently employed uncertified teachers on Step 1, 2 or 3 to Step 4 immediately upon receipt of state certification.

Of tremendous consequence to our teachers, new and experienced, is our provision of the professional development needed to manage a classroom and to use the newly available textbooks and related instructional materials with confidence.

Substance, instructional focus and the expectation that there must be transfer to classroom practice are hallmarks of the professional development that we provide. Our teachers, especially our newest ones, benefit from our attention to their development.

Further, providing first-year teachers with mentors who have content knowledge and practical teaching skill is helping us retain our novice educators.

Strong and effective leadership by principals is critical to successful teacher recruitment, training and retention. We are being equally dynamic in our efforts to restructure the principals' pay scale effective July 1.

Although the financial incentives and the other services add value to the attractiveness of the school district, the overwhelming majority of teachers and administrators work in our schools for the intrinsic rewards of educating our children. For that, all of us should be grateful.

People everywhere know that education costs a lot, truly effective education costs much more and ineffective education costs the most. Making the recruitment and retention of qualified, competent teachers a priority in our city, state and nation requires extensive, consistent investment of the necessary financial resources.

Teachers deserve no less than our best thinking and decisive action to improve their circumstances and the teaching and learning environments in our schools.

Carmen V. Russo is chief executive officer of the Baltimore City public school system. J. Tyson Tildon is chairman of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners.

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