Teacher shuffle causes concern

Some gifted programs deemed inadequate

`Robbing Peter to pay Paul'

Educators to be shifted in elementary schools

Howard County

March 02, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Because some Howard County elementary schools have not been offering an adequate Gifted and Talented program, the school system has reassigned its GT resource teachers Robin Hood-style: taking from the staff-rich and giving to the staff-poor.

The decision has many parents and administrators frightened that their children will lose programs and opportunities. Some parents and teachers see it as a raid on better-performing schools to help poor performers.

"They're robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Pam Rochlin, a GT resource teacher at top-tier Ilchester Elementary in Ellicott City, which is giving up a half-time teacher to a smaller school. Ilchester Elementary has a population of 768.

"We will not be able to support the number of students we have in these programs with one-half less person," she said.

But to school administrators, the staff shift is more about producing a level playing field than favoritism.

Starting next year, all but two elementary schools will have one full-time and one part-time GT teacher, for a total of 1 1/2 . (Pointers Run, with 806 pupils, will have two teachers, and Running Brook, population 241, will have one). The current range is from one to 2 1/2 .

No positions have been added to the budget to make up the deficits. Instead, better-staffed, and often better-performing, bigger schools such as Ilchester have had to donate staff to smaller, lower-performing schools such as Bryant Woods, population 264.

School system officials said this was the best solution to a problem identified during the past two years, namely the lack of consistency across the county.

"Over time, inequities of programs and availability of services developed," said Robert Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Generally, one-third of the schools were implementing the GT program model," Glascock said. "The other two-thirds were on a continuum, with some having gone so far, you couldn't even find the gifted program in the school."

Thomas Payne, coordinator of the office of advanced programs, started looking for an explanation. After studying the programs at all the schools, he concluded the problem was in the staffing numbers.

Schools with one GT teacher, regardless of their enrollment, simply can't offer the three components of the GT program, he said: advanced placement math instruction, enhanced curriculum for above-average achievers, and instructional seminar opportunities for all interested children.

They need at least 1 1/2 teachers, and Payne said the school board hasn't approved any additional staffing requests for the GT department in the past few years so he didn't bother asking this year.

"That's why we had to use the existing staffing to make this shift," Payne said, adding that his department will be able to finally show a demonstrable need for more staffing in time for the next budget proposal if the cuts produce damaging data.

"The impression I get is that there's no money this year, so they're going to make us bleed so they can ask for more money next year," said Christine Heinrich, who has a daughter in the GT program at Elkridge Elementary, which is also losing a part-time resource teacher.

Teachers at the bigger schools losing staff will have to work more efficiently, Payne and Glascock said, and should be able to get by that way.

What will suffer, they said, are the extra programs the staff had introduced. The extra programs suggested to school administrators that there were more GT teachers than necessary.

"They were doing a lot of things above and beyond the parameters," Payne said. "It was a lot of good stuff, but we've got to step back and make sure everybody is at least doing A, B and C. Then we can come back and ask for more staff so we can do D, E and F."

But Ilchester's Rochlin said it's ridiculous to think a school twice the size of most others can get by with the same number of GT teachers.

"We just want the staffing we're entitled to," Rochlin said.

"It comes down to a math equation, and it's ironic that we're GT math teachers and the math doesn't add up."

Lauri Via, who has a fourth-grade son at Ilchester, inferred that the cuts were another example of concentrating resources in the lower-ranked schools at the expense of the higher-performing schools, but Payne said that's not the case.

"I just think it fell out that way," Payne said. "We were looking at the program in each school, not the [ranked] status."

In this shuffle, more top-rated schools lost resource teachers and more lower-rated schools gained them.

Bryant Woods Principal Jason McCoy said he is glad to be on the receiving end.

"We're always happy to get additional resources to give us more flexibility and allow us to reach more children," McCoy said.

School board member Courtney Watson has been struggling to figure all this out, because school administrators originally told her it was the best choice, not the most frugal choice.

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