Refusal To Take Tests Could Cost Teacher His Paycheck

December 26, 1990|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

If Frank G. Kenesson is not back in the classroom at Glenelg High School next September, it will be because he won't follow what he calls the schools' "pernicious requirements."

Kenesson, coordinator of the challenging International Baccalaureate diploma program at Glenelg High School and teacher of a theory of knowledge course in the program, has already taken a substantial pay cut. He now faces the prospect that his teaching contract won't be renewed in 1991-1992 because of his refusal to take two courses he considers irrelevant to his job.

The courses, "Methods of Teaching Reading" and a special education course, became requirements in 1986 for social studies teachers to renew their certificates. Exactly who requires the courses -- the Maryland State Department of Education or the Howard County school system -- is unclear from Kenesson's dealings with the two education agencies.

Kenesson, 48, probably could pass the courses easily. He took teacher education courses and practice-taught as part of his bachelor's degree studies at American University, where he graduated in 1969 with a degree in history. He has been certified to teach in Maryland, and has earned a master's degree in history (American University, 1975) and a Ph.D in comparative literature (University of Maryland-College Park, 1988). Last year, he scored in the 99th percentile on the National Teachers Exam.

He refuses to take the courses because he maintains they are irrelevant to his job, which is to teach students in the IB diploma program. The IB, which requires five years of math, advanced studies in other academic courses, the theory of knowledge course and an independent research paper, is academically demanding even for top students. Most colleges and universities grant advanced placement or course credit to IB graduates.

Kenesson also says he sees a larger issue. "I don't believe it is helpful to education to browbeat the teachers with pernicious requirements," he says. "They shouldn't be telling teachers, 'These are the courses you need.' They should be asking us, 'What do you need?' " He says he sees irony in his situation at a time when President George Bush is pushing for alternative teacher certification. The Maryland State Board of Education in September adopted a "resident teacher certificate" category that allows school systems to hire qualified liberal arts graduates as teachers without a full complement of education courses. The certificate has been strongly opposed by teacher unions.

Kenesson says he is not opposed to special education courses, merely to the requirement that he take the courses. He does not encounter special education students in his classes.

He also says he is not opposed to certification, having been certified in 1978, when he began teaching at a private school in Prince George's County, through 1983, when his certificate required the renewal he has chosen not to obtain.

He has a letter from a state education official saying that the state has no category of certification to cover his present job.

When local school officials pressed him in 1988-1989 to take the two courses for renewal of his certificate, Albert W. Tucci, supervisor of human resources, said it was a state requirement, Kenesson said.

Tucci refused to discuss the situation with The Howard County Sun. "All the information you have is wrong. You haven't said one thing that's right, but I'm not going to try to correct it, because it's a personnel issue," he said last week.

Kenesson wrote MSDE and in October 1989 received a reply from John J.

Jones, supervisor in certification, which said, " . . . this office would take the position that the state does not offer any category of certification appropriate to cover (your) assignment."

Jones added that local school systems can impose additional requirements on teachers as a condition of employment, which returned the issue to the county Department of Education. Jones was reported on vacation Monday and not available for comment.

In meetings with Tucci and James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for instruction and administration, Kenesson says he offered to take other courses on education of gifted and talented students, which he says would be relevant to his job. But the answer was that such a course would not meet the certification requirement.

"As I worked my way up the ladder, I always expected to run into someone who would say, 'Well, yes, Frank, it doesn't apply to you. Just don't do it and we'll forget it,' " Kenesson says.

He says he never met that person, and was left with the understanding that his contract would not be renewed for 1989-1990. However, the school board did renew his contract, but reduced him from the Ph.D. level on the salary scale to provisional degree level, a move that cut his salary from $25,017 to $17,232.

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