415 new teachers to join schools

Hiring enables system to maintain required teacher-student ratios

Two innovative programs to debut in county

August 28, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A record 415 new teachers will be in place when more than 40,500 students return tomorrow to Harford County public schools for the opening of the 2005-2006 school year.

The spate of new hires occurred after the County Council approved full funding of the school budget for the first time in more than 30 years. The $340 million budget included $187 million from the county - about $30 million more than last year's county share.

"This is the largest number of new teachers hired in one year in the history of the school system," said Don Morrison, spokesman for the county schools.

The expanded staff puts the school system in line with requirements for teacher-student ratios and allows for the implementation of two new education programs.

The county lost 253 teachers through attrition, which is about normal in recent years, Morrison said. New programs and the need to meet teacher-student ratio requirements resulted in 162 new positions opening, leaving the district with 415 of its 2,900 positions to fill. Teachers from 15 states are joining the Harford system and bring a range of experience.

Katy Doherty, a first-year teacher from Binghamton, N.Y., said she already has sought out veteran teachers for guidance.

"On my first day I was going to the experienced teachers, asking them how to set up lesson plans, what manipulatives to use and how to set up the classroom," said Doherty, who will teach seventh-grade math at Fallston Middle School. "I'm so excited to be a part of this team and have so many professionals around to help me."

Experienced teachers point to the benefits of having new staffers join the district.

"They bring with them a new enthusiasm and share it with the veteran teachers," said Ken Horn, a mentor teacher at Fallston Middle.

While many areas of the country are experiencing teacher shortages, Harford filled all of its openings, and satisfied teacher qualification standards mandated by federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

"Hiring teachers is more and more difficult, because the new guidelines require that a teacher be fully certified in the subject they teach," said Morrison. "So a teacher certified in math can't teach science."

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said filling openings is made more difficult by the shortage of teachers coming out of college.

"In Maryland, there are anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 new teachers needed annually," said Reinhard. "Every year, local colleges produce about 2,500 teachers. Half of those don't teach in Maryland, for a variety of reasons. So we have to hire the other teachers from out of state. In some cases, we may even have to go outside the United States to find teachers."

The 162 new positions in Harford were created because of a federal requirement that limits the number of students in a classroom: 20 children in prekindergarten; 15 in kindergarten; 23 in first and second grades; and 25 in grades three through five.

"If you don't have money to hire enough teachers, the classes get larger and larger," said Morrison. "So by hiring enough teachers we have our class sizes down to what they should be."

Some teachers were hired for a new daytime alternative education program to be taught at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen.

Principal Mark Buzminsky said the program is designed for students who struggle academically in a traditional classroom setting. It provides a smaller, more structured environment.

In previous years the program was held at night and had four teachers. This year, the staff comprises 10 new teachers, an assistant principal, a guidance counselor, a psychologist, a nurse, a behavior specialist and a secretary.

More than 130 students at middle and high school levels are enrolled in the four-day-a-week program, which Buzminsky said can accommodate up to 225 students.

"The classes in the program may only have five or six students," said Buzminsky. "The kids can get a lot of individualized attention and assistance. Once they do it, many of them don't want to leave. We have 24 kids coming that were here last year. It's entirely voluntary. It won't work unless the kids want to be here."

Classes include core subjects, such as math, science and social studies, and some electives, such as Spanish, art and journalism. There also are resources for students who need extra help in reading and math.

Buzminsky taught the night version of the program for eight years. When the day program was in the planning stages, he decided that he wanted to contribute to making the program a success.

"I believe I have the temperament to help give the students attending our program a chance to be successful academically," said Buzminsky. "They need someone to care about them, and I care."

Also new this year is a pilot program at Fallston Middle designed for children with autism. The program will be taught by Jessie Bamberger, a first-year teacher from Lebanon, Pa.

"We're the only school offering the program in all of Harford County, so if it goes well, I imagine we'll open it at other schools," she said.

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