Academic coaches are `necessary help'

Principals show support, but 50 jobs in jeopardy

January 14, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Scores of academic coaches packed the Baltimore school district's boardroom yesterday evening to defend their positions as teacher-trainers and support personnel, while principals and teachers showed up to give the coaches - some of whom might be laid off because of a multimillion-dollar budget deficit - their backing.

"There are so many demands on us every single day. We need all the help we can get," Karen Lawrence, principal of Lyndhurst Elementary, told the meeting of the system's Quality of Instruction Committee. "The academic coaches are a tremendous help and a necessary help."

To chip away at a budget deficit that could reach $31 million if left unchecked this year, schools chief Carmen V. Russo has recommended the elimination of about 50 academic coaching positions for a savings of $1.2 million.

Some have criticized the hiring of the nearly 300 coaches - at least two in every elementary and middle school - because of salaries that are in some cases higher than those of principals. With an average salary range of about $40,000 to $80,000 yearly, the coaches cost about $3 million.

But the coaches and others said their salaries have been falsely inflated in media reports.

"They keep harping on the amount of money that the academic coaches make," said Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English. "But they're talking about the high end. No one makes that. A lot of people are in the middle."

Academic coaches assist teachers with lesson plans and classroom strategies. Many are experienced teachers or administrators.

Some reported working long hours to help teachers improve.

"We go well beyond what anybody thinks that we do," said Joanne Robinson, an academic coach at Benjamin Franklin Middle. "We do it without complaining. We do it without thought of the money that people keep throwing up in our faces."

The system's chief academic officer, Cassandra Jones, said the coaches are taking unfair heat because of the budget. "I think everyone would agree that teachers need support. So my question would be, if not academic coaches, then who?" she said.

Some board members have expressed doubts that the coaches are more effective than the "master teachers" of years past who performed similar tasks and were paid less.

Jones said it was too early to give concrete data. But she offered anecdotal evidence and showed committee members - some of whom also are school board members - the results of a survey she compiled, showing that many principals and teachers find the coaches invaluable.

But board member Sam Stringfield pointed out that the survey - administered on the Internet over several weeks - had a major flaw. He confessed to having taken and submitted the survey six times, sometimes pretending to be a principal, other times a teacher or a coach.

"And I know some other people who did the same thing," he said.

After the meeting, board member Kenneth A. Jones said such flaws are discouraging.

"I think the financial problem that we're having is manageable," he said. "I'm more worried about the crisis of leadership."

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