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Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

December 13, 2003

As to the writer's advice that the trip participants should take "a reality trip to a soup kitchen," perhaps the following should be considered:

Of AVAM's 19 full-time employees, two came to us directly from a homeless shelter. Today, they own their homes but continue to mentor shelter residents and help us employ them as event staff.

In the last two months, AVAM has hosted three large benefits to aid efforts to help the homeless.

Such community partnerships have been our policy since opening eight years ago. AVAM's first 1997 Grand Goddess award went to Bea Gaddy. We donated a portion of proceeds from our "LOVE" show to benefit the House of Ruth. And for six years, we have been the art sponsor of a music program the fabulous Billy Kemp conducts in the Baltimore City Women's Detention Center.

Our "Goddess" trip to New York included a visit to Manhattan's only Girl's Club. We brought with us 150 gifts for their Lower East Side girls most in need.

Our national museum exhibitions have shared more art created by people who are homeless, disenfranchised and disabled than any national museum in the country -- sharing their words and stories alongside their art.

Last year, more than 6,000 recovering addicts attended our exhibition on addiction as honored guests.

For eight years, AVAM has employed disabled adults from the Association for Retarded Citizens. We have kept our budget nearly flat during all that time. I have never drawn salary as director.

We truly know just how many terrific causes out there also need and deserve charitable help, and we fight extra hard to make miracles happen each year with every penny we are gifted or earn.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger

Baltimore

The writer is the founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum.

Don't remove rehired teachers

Lost amid the controversy involving the teacher retire-rehire law is awareness that there is a need to continually improve "successful" public schools ("Lawmakers poised to toughen retire-rehire rules," Dec. 8).

Faced with an increasingly competitive environment for recruiting quality students and teachers from private schools, and the demands of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act to hire and retain "highly qualified teachers," leaders of public school systems in Maryland cannot afford to lose the quality veteran teachers who have been an integral part of the success.

Granted, there is a desperate need for more experienced and quality teachers at the low-performing schools.

Teachers in low-performing schools face a variety of educational, social and emotional challenges, and finding alternative methods to improve teacher and administrator retention rates in such schools should be investigated and continue to be a high priority.

But must "successful" schools also sacrifice progress by purging the human resources necessary to ensure continued improvement?

Many of the rehired teachers have come back to help raise SAT scores, teach college-level Advanced Placement courses and serve as mentors to the next generation of quality instructors.

Without these exemplary professionals, the ability of the students in "successful" schools to qualify for academic merit scholarships and gain admission to highly selective colleges and universities would be severely compromised.

And a major shortcoming of the retire-rehire law is the premise that the teachers with more than 30 years experience will be most effective working with at-risk youths in low-performing schools.

While that may be true of those who have been teaching in low-performing schools for more than 30 years (and those are few and far between), most retirees lack the experience and training to meet the needs of at-risk populations.

And more recently, teacher education programs in the colleges and universities have begun to focus on the types of classroom management techniques and strategies that work effectively with students in underperforming schools.

Findings from many of studies analyzing teacher effectiveness in low-performing schools indicate that the mid-career teachers tend to have the most effective combination of training and experience to foster better results in academic performance and social adjustment.

Let's hope The Sun's investigation doesn't lead to a witch hunt throughout public education systems that creates a "brain drain" that could be devastating at a time when performance standards and competition for post-secondary education placement and funding is escalating rapidly.

Narrowing the achievement gap between "successful" and "low-performing" schools should not be accomplished by allowing "successful" schools to slowly disintegrate toward mediocrity.

The students in the public schools in Maryland deserve the best, and if that means we have to pay a relatively small number of educators a decent salary, so be it.

Kevin L. Ensor

Parkton

The writer is a college counselor at Hereford High School.

I am a junior at a fairly successful school in Baltimore County. Some of my teachers are retire-rehire teachers, and generally these are the better teachers at my school -- the ones who either really connect with the students or teach in a way few others can.

However, if some lawmakers in Annapolis get their way, these teachers won't be available to me and to students at other schools.

But there is no reason to think that because a teacher has experience, he or she would be better suited to a poorly performing school -- the poor performance of which may or may not be related to the teachers.

Poor performance often is a result of apathy from students, and it would be unfair to take good teachers who currently work at a good schools, teaching interested students, and put them in front of students whose prime concerns lie far from the classroom.

Steve Lyon

Freeland

The writer is a student at Hereford High School.

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