City's loss is county's gain as teacher returns to classroom

Jeffrey Hogan faces fifth-graders

January 14, 2004|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

Schoolteacher Jeffrey Hogan returns to the classroom today.

It won't be in Baltimore City.

Hogan will be introduced to his new class of fifth-graders at Sandy Plains Elementary School. Near Dundalk. In Baltimore County.

Hogan was offered that job one week ago today, and he accepted it. Two days later, a Baltimore City school official called Hogan and offered to reinstate him as a city schoolteacher, thereby reversing Hogan's October dismissal.

It was too late.

What it all means is that Govans Elementary School, the city school where Hogan taught first-graders for more than four years, unnecessarily lost a prized first-grade teacher. A system with deficiencies everywhere you look had manufactured a way to rid itself of one of the things that was working.

"The system just ignored something the whole country is crying for, competent teachers, teachers who care, teachers who will go the extra mile," said Wesley Aydlett, who saw his granddaughter Jasmine blossom in Hogan's first-grade class at Govans last year. "I just feel betrayed by the city, the school board, and the mayor because they couldn't take the time to take care of this situation ... They just let one of our best assets go away. I am disgusted."

Hogan's tangled story was detailed in The Sun last month. Although a former "teacher of the year" at Govans and much admired by parents, children and colleagues, the city fired him in October claiming that his certification was not in order.

Hogan, 30, had been certified by New York state, which has a reciprocal arrangement with the state of Maryland. Through his own inadvertence and apparently faulty advice from the city, Hogan never transformed his New York certification into Maryland certification, as he was entitled to do. That left him vulnerable when the city schools, in the midst of a budgetary catastrophe, decided in October that one way to cut expenses was to fire about 80 teachers with inadequate certification.

Hogan's last day on the payroll was in early November, but he thought his sudden departure would be too upsetting to his young students. So, he continued to teach his Govans class deep into December. He left shortly before the Christmas vacation and began searching for a new teaching job.

In response to The Sun's inquiries, in December, city school officials promised to review Hogan's case, especially in light of comments by John Smeallie, head of state certification, that Hogan appeared to meet all the qualifications for his Maryland certification. After publication of the story on Dec. 22, Edie House, a spokeswoman for the city schools, said that at least one school commissioner inquired into what could be done to retain Hogan.

Late call

But Hogan did not hear from the city until last Friday when he was called by Bill Boden, acting head of the office of human relations. Upon hearing that the county was satisfied with Hogan's certification, Boden said he offered to rehire Hogan, although not necessarily for the same Govans class.

Boden, who only began the job shortly before Christmas, could not explain why it had taken so long to contact Hogan. Baltimore County interviewed Hogan one day last week and hired him the next. By contrast, the city allowed three weeks to pass after agreeing to review his situation. By the time school officials decided to reverse themselves, they were two days too late.

Having been without a paycheck since early November and with no word from the city, Hogan took the Baltimore County job. (He had also been offered a teaching job by Fairfax County, Va.)

All along, Hogan had said that he strongly desired to return to his first graders at Govans. By the time Boden called, Hogan had soured on the idea of teaching anywhere in the city other than Govans. "I spent my life savings to teach those kids, and they were worth it," Hogan said, "but now it's time to move on. I wouldn't go back to Baltimore City except for them. Why would I go to a different school?"

In their conversation, Boden apologized to Hogan. "Whatever happened, we lost a good teacher, and I think that's something to be sorry about," Boden later said.

"I accepted his apology but it's very late," Hogan said.

Sandy Plains, like Govans, serves a lower-income population with all its attendant problems. But Hogan prefers to work in such schools because he feels he can make a bigger difference there. Through an approach that was unceasingly gentle and encouraging, Hogan showed a knack at Govans of turning around kids who had frustrated other teachers.

No doubt, those skills will be tested again at Sandy Plains, but he will also immediately confront a situation there that will require especial deft and sensitivity. The job was open because of a tragic circumstance. On Dec. 19, the day after his 43rd birthday, a popular Sandy Plains teacher named Robert Ciaccio suffered an aneurysm. He died a week later.

Empathy needed

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