Baltimore opens schools well staffed

Curriculum changes in place for this year

August 30, 1999|By Liz Bowie and Lynn Anderson | Liz Bowie and Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Despite fears that a growing teacher shortage would leave local school systems unprepared, administrators say that no student will lack a teacher when classrooms open today, the first day of school.

Baltimore school officials, who launched a national search for qualified teachers last winter in hopes of attracting good candidates, say they will open schools with 130 vacancies out of about 7,000 teaching positions. Baltimore County will open with 15 vacancies out of about 7,700 positions.

Those vacant positions will be filled by substitutes, some of whom are retired teachers, who can accept temporary assignments without risking retirement benefits.

New faces at the blackboard might not be the only change the estimated 212,000 city and county students face today. County secondary students will use new geometry textbooks as part of a revised mathematics curriculum.

In an attempt to ensure that all children can read by the time they reach third grade, county elementary school reading specialists were trained last week to teach community volunteers -- parents, grandparents and teacher aides -- how to work with young readers.

In Baltimore City, students -- age 6 to 18 -- will be handed new math textbooks, and their teachers should be better prepared to teach the subject after a summer training program.

Third- and fourth-graders will have fewer classmates as the city school system continues its effort to reduce class size in all elementary grades. Middle school pupils are likely to find reading teachers in their schools who can improve their skills.

For years, the city has been losing its youngest teachers to county school systems where pay was higher and teaching assignments were perceived as less challenging. But some differences between the systems are disappearing. Last week, pay for beginning teachers in the city increased 4 percent to $28,449, compared with $29,500 for Baltimore County. Daily pay for the city's substitute teachers recently increased as well.

Baltimore City also has improved support for new teachers by providing a monthlong summer orientation program taught by veteran teachers. The program was designed to give novices techniques to help keep classes under control.

This year, the city will provide a mentor for each new teacher to help them get through their first year, a program like the one the county initiated last year.

"I am very optimistic for the school year," said Betty Morgan, city chief academic officer. "I think that we realize we are only as good as our weakest teacher, and our goal is to make our teachers strong."

Teacher recruiting has grown more competitive in recent years, forcing some school systems to offer incentives, including relocation packages and signing bonuses.

County school officials review their hiring process every fall, brainstorming for new recruitment strategies, said John E. Smeallie, Baltimore County's personnel director. Next year, the school system plans to list more job notices on the Internet and increase out-of-state recruitment.

"I'm sure we'll examine our total compensation package, including salary, benefits and incentives, to make sure that we are as competitive as we need to be in the marketplace," he said.

Recently, the city placed ads in local newspapers for math and science teachers, offering to tell candidates within 24 hours whether they would qualify for an interview. They interviewed 65 people in one day and hired 22 of them.

After struggling to fill classrooms and hiring mostly uncertified teachers last year, Morgan said that this year she made improving the teaching staff -- by attracting better-qualified candidates, and by increasing training and support for teachers already hired -- her priority.

The city made bureaucratic changes that allowed it to offer contracts to graduating seniors earlier in the year, conducted a national search for candidates, and helped new hires find housing.

Pub Date: 8/30/99

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