Students take role in hiring

Process: Park School and other private schools in the Baltimore area are increasingly involving their children in making decisions on the employment of new teachers.

May 14, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

When John Kessinger came to Park School to interview for a teaching job a year ago, some of the first questions he was asked were about his methods and interests: Did he lecture or hold discussions? What were his outside interests? What about athletics? Did he coach?

Then he was asked whether he objected to being called by his first name.

The question didn't come from the head of the school or other administrators or teachers - it came from a student.

At Park School in Brooklandville, students play a major role in the interviewing and hiring of their teachers. To a lesser degree, students at other Baltimore-area private schools have a say in whether a teaching candidate is hired.

"Involving the students is so important," said Rick Commons, assistant headmaster at McDonogh School in Owings Mills. "The students have a great perspective about whether the applicant cares about kids. We are looking for the thing that matters the most in a teacher - interacting with the students.

"What works well in an interview may not work well in a classroom. The students instinctively know it," Commons said.

If he hadn't passed the crucial test with students, Kessinger, 34, now a history teacher at Park, probably wouldn't have been hired.

"I enjoyed being interviewed by the students," said Kessinger, who is known to the students as Mr. K. "I learned a lot, too. I believe the interview with students shows the prospective candidates what the school is about and its philosophy."

For Park's administrators, including the students in the hiring process is nothing new. The school has involved students for at least eight years.

David Jackson, head of Park, said that "using the students' perspectives gives us a full picture" of the applicant, along with impressions from administrators and faculty members.

"We have been really impressed with the quality of students' responses" when they interview applicants, he said. Park is "committed to this idea" of students helping to interview job applicants. "It's a little unusual here in that the students meet with the candidates alone for the interviews," he said.

At Oldfields School, a girls day and boarding school in Glencoe, Sean Murphy, assistant head of school and head of academic programs, said: "The students have great insights and the interview process is a good educational experience,"

He said that when Oldfields was searching for a dean of students, the students had a significant hand in the process because the dean is so involved in the students' daily lives. The weight of students' opinions depends on the position that is being considered.

"At a boarding school, where the dean lives on campus, that person has much more of an impact on a student's life than just in the classroom," Murphy said.

Jon Harris, headmaster of Friends School in North Baltimore, believes that student involvement in hiring teachers is a great way for students to help shape the school.

"We have a good process," Harris said. "We have a number of people, including administrators, teachers and students, who see the candidates. Then we look for a common theme in their responses about the candidates. It's a process that works pretty well."

Carolyn Helfman, associate head of Bryn Mawr School in North Baltimore, said student involvement is not formalized, but administrators ask for students' impressions of candidates after an applicant teaches a class. She said students also talk to applicants when they conduct campus tours or when the upper school students lunch with candidates.

`We pay attention'

"We pay attention to their assessments," Helfman said. "The fact is that the students, faculty and administrators have been in agreement about the candidates, so far."

Louise Mehta, associate head of Park, who oversees the hiring, agrees.

"Remarkably, we [administrators, faculty and students] come out in the same place," Mehta said. "Even the candidates talk about the importance of meeting with the students and being interviewed."

Some administrators said that students shouldn't believe they are making decisions about hiring teachers, even if their opinions are solicited.

Jean Waller Brune, head of Roland Park Country School, said students are asked their impressions when a candidate teaches a class at her school.

That teaching demonstration is important because it shows a candidate's creativity and teaching style and elicits feedback from students, Brune said.

"Student opinion is important, but most students are not ready to be formally involved in decisions about hiring teachers," she said. "Sometimes, the charisma of a candidate and the resume don't match."

Exchange of interviews

Park students said the interviews with applicants sometimes become a situation where they are interviewing each other.

"They [candidates] ask us about Park and ask us to be honest when we are talking with them," said Leah Wissow, 13, of the city's Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood.

It becomes an exchange of information, but she said some candidates are more comfortable talking with students than others.

Saba McCoy, 13, of Catonsville remembers one applicant who kept asking about student freedom on campus and how he tried too hard to make the student interviewers like him.

Senior Jazzmen Lee-Johnson, 17, of Owings Mills believes that Park is a community with strong relationships between students are faculty.

"That's why it's important for students to have a say-so in the hiring," she said. "And our recommendations are taken seriously.

One who didn't `relate'

Senior Jesse Colvin, 17, of Roland Park said one candidate had gone through interviews with administrators and faculty, had taught a class and was having lunch with some upper school students as part of their interview.

"He just couldn't relate to us - one to one," Colvin said. "It became apparent that he didn't even like kids."

So what happened?

"He wasn't hired," Colvin said.

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