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A plum for 6 who teach
A half-dozen local teachers learn they've passed their rigorous board certification.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 13, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - The candidates are judged in four intensive rounds by a dozen experts. They must pass tests, perform to perfection on videotape and submit detailed documents produced by their clients.
Are these doctors, lawyers or engineers?
No. They're teachers.
On Friday six Hernando County educators joined a select club, earning certification as National Board-certified teachers. By all accounts, it was far from easy.
"Oh, my goodness," said Kelly O'Connor, gifted education teacher at Chocachatti Elementary, trying to sum up the process. "It was a very long, challenging experience. Very many long nights at school and over the breaks."
Teachers must submit portfolios that include lesson plans, analysis of lessons, student work, video of classes, and a description of their community involvement.
Since its founding in 1987, the independent National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has certified some 55,000 teachers, including 52 in Hernando County.
Most states have recognized the program's quality, providing enrollment fees, cash incentives and other aid to encourage more teachers to take part.
In Florida, board-certified teachers earn an annual bonus of about $4,000, and can double that by working as mentors.
A handful of districts go even further, offering cash bonuses to lure board-certified teachers from other districts or out of state. Some of those are large counties like Miami-Dade, which pays a one-time stipend of $7,500, or Duval and Broward, which offer $2,500 and $2,100 per year respectively, according to the board.
But tiny Nassau County, with an enrollment of about 11,000 students, pays a $1,500 stipend, and 35,000-student Lake County pays $500 a year.
Hernando pays no extra stipend, and officials acknowledged they might be missing out on a useful tool to recruit and retain qualified teachers.
Still, it's hard to find a National Board teacher who's in it for the money.
"It's something you've done to make yourself a better professional," said Cecilia Solomon, a media specialist at West Hernando Middle School, who gained her certification in 2004.
"The best part was the reflection," she added, referring to the process. "Because it made you ask, 'Why am I doing what I'm doing? Is it best for the students?' That's what it's all about: student achievement."
That process of self-reflection also energized Jacqueline May, an English teacher at Springstead High School who won her certification Friday.
"In order to qualify, I think you're going to have to be a pretty driven teacher who puts a lot of thought into what you teach and how you teach it," she said.
"If you get stale and bored with what you're teaching, you're not going to be a good teacher, and students are going to be bored as well."
Some studies have shown that students of board-certified teachers do better than their peers in other classes, said Mary Brownell, an education professor at the University of Florida who specializes in teacher quality.
While it's not a perfect, data-driven measurement of which teachers excel, it certainly does a better job than most state measures, including Florida's certification exam, she said.
"National Board certification is certainly a more rigorous process than being able to take a test and become a teacher," she said.
About 40 percent of candidates achieve certification in their first year, with 65 percent passing within the three-year limit, said James Minichello, a spokesman for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.