Technically speaking, board's shuffling of teachers is bunk

May 06, 1992|By Phil Greenfield

Ken Goncz is a social studies colleague of mine at Annapolis High, and an affable nine-year veteran of the teaching trenches. His first six years were spent at Annapolis Junior. We promoted him to the varsity back in '89.

One of the more articulate bodybuilders you'll find, Goncz quickly made his presence felt at the "Big House" as the JV basketball coach (17-3 last season), the varsity track coach and in the classroom where, in his two lower-level classes, 78 percent of the students passed the Functional Citizenship Test last time around.

Sue Chittim, another compatriot, is a talented, enthusiastic math teacher who smiles more invitingly when in the throes of despair than I do at my bubbliest. Coach of the JV girls soccer team and mastermind of this year's playoff-bound girls lacrosse squad, Chittim was voted "Coolest Female Teacher" at Annapolis by a recent graduating class. (Modesty forbids me from naming her male counterpart.)

Another fellow social studies person is Joe Kirby, a feisty Irishman who wears the perpetually dyspeptic look of a coach whose JV baseball team is 1-9. "Kirb" is known for the spirited discussions he leads in his law classes. Somebody's listening: 84 percent of his little darlings hit pay dirt on the Citizenship Test last time around.

Goncz, Chittim and Kirby have two things in common. They are good teachers who are admirably involved with young people both in and out of the classroom. And the three of them, along with several others, have been "excessed," told that they will not be returning to Annapolis next fall.

Annapolis High, you see, is technically overstaffed. In response to the budget crunch, the official Board of Education formula, I'm told, is now one teacher per 24.5 students.

That means that Annapolis is selfishly hogging 7.3 too many teachers who must now be tossed back into the pool for reassignment elsewhere, should positions become available.

Well-intentioned principals like Laura Webb at Annapolis are forced to wheel and deal like Bobby Beathard on draft day to keep their best teachers. And sometimes they reel them back in. In the end, however, they are constrained by the seniority rule mandated by the teachers union, which insists that those with the fewest years of service be the first to go.

Sigh. Stability has its place, I suppose, as does the curtailment of arbitrary administrative power. But it would be nice to think that job rights could be protected in a way that would allow the occasional uprooting of deadwood and the discretionary authority to keep folks like Kenny, Sue and Joe,

These are not burnt-out souls hanging on by a thread. Sue, who recently gave birth to young Kyle Thomas, is actually a "voluntary excess" who'd hoped to return to Annapolis part time next year.

The irony of all this is positively breathtaking.

Right after the two recent brawls at Annapolis, the school board brought in an expert on school violence who gave us the lowdown on bicycle chains, brass knuckles and knives concealed in comb and lipstick cases, while providing insights into ways teachers can keep from getting bonked on the head in the line of duty.

Front-page newspaper coverage was arranged and, with the top brass on hand, the school board seemed to be saying to us and to the community, "We're with you Annapolis. See all we're doing help you." And click went the cameras.

But the other shoe just dropped. "Sorry, Annapolis, but you're overstaffed."

You don't take good teachers out of a school when you're trying to stem the tide of violence, for God's sake. You put them in.

This is also an age when everybody is in love with equity. Assuring equity is a stated objective of our schools. When it comes to shopping for a new superintendent, the No. 1 question on people's minds seems to be: "How committed will he or she be to the principle of equity?"

Question. What is equity anyhow? What equity really means is that each and every child must have access to the things that will allow him or her to succeed academically. And we all know that the single most important determinant of success in the classroom is the teacher. Depriving children of first-rate teachers is as ugly a violation of the equity principle as can be imagined. Stuffing them into classes of 40 or more doesn't exactly enhance their individualized prospects for success either. Equity my foot.

And, ah, the state's functional testing program. These scores seem to be all anyone cares about these days. So how do we go about raising Anne Arundel County's level of performance on these all-important indicators? By "excessing" talented American government teachers like my colleagues?

Strange how we can afford millions to design, administer, score and report the tests, but can't afford to maintain the number of teachers we have teaching the material they cover. The mind boggles.

Perhaps we should just have done with it and appoint Franz Kafka the new superintendent of schools. He'd be perfect for a system in which a top-quality teacher has more to fear from a visit to the principal's office than any juvenile miscreant.

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