Teacher certification increases in parish

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 30, 2002


RESERVE – Worried little Johnny’s teachers are not prepared to handle a classroom of screaming students after a long, hot summer? Do you think little Susie’s teacher lacks the training needed to deal with her special needs?

St. John the Baptist Parish School officials recently said teacher certification in parish public schools is up and staff members are better prepared for the 2002-03 school year. The increase in certification is expected to improve scores on LEAP and other standardized tests.

Last year, the St. John Parish School System was criticized during state district performance evaluations. While ratings were satisfactory overall, the schools were marked “unsatisfactory” in terms of teacher certification.

“The State Department of Education has harped on us hard for our low teacher certification,” Superintendent Michael Coburn said. “The increase in certification (this year) should help us when we get our district performance scores. We should rate ‘excellent.'”

In May, St. John Parish schools reported 78 percent of regular and special education teachers during the 2001-02 school year were certified. Of this number, 89 percent (281 teachers) of regular education teachers were certified and only 45 percent (50 teachers) special education teachers were certified. These figures included only classroom teachers in the parish. On Friday, reports showed total certification at 91 percent. The report showed 96 percent (298 teachers) of regular education teachers certified and 75 percent (79 teachers) of special education certified.

“I told Anne LaBorde (director of Personnel) we wanted to get up in the 90 percent this year and she did that,” Coburn said. “Now we are going to push harder and go for that 100 percent.”

Fast-tract programs, salary increases and recruiting efforts have been credited for the improvement.

“We have always been required to exhaust our look for certified teachers before hiring uncertified,” Laborde said. “In the past, one of the problems was teachers would graduate with a degree in education but would fail the test.”

Now, universities are offering alternative programs to help those teachers pass the certification exam.

“An in-service teacher working on becoming certified must have a 2.5 GPA undergrad and a bachelor’s degree to qualify for the fast-track program,” Laborde said.

Laborde said the types of programs vary, along with the types of candidates that apply. Some participants are teachers, while others are retired from another field but hope to move into education.

Both Laborde and Coburn credit salary increases with bringing in a more qualified teaching staff.

“We went from No. 31 to No. 9 in starting salary (in the state),” Laborde said. “We have always had good benefits. Now we have become competitive salary-wise.”

The K-8 reconfiguration of the school system is expected to further increase the number of certified teachers. Officials hope the reconfiguration will attract teachers to seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms who normally would not be attracted to junior high schools.

“It is easier to get a teacher to teach a seventh-grade at an elementary school than at a middle,” Laborde said. “People are not generally drawn to the middle school setting because there is no mobility. At an elementary school they can start in seventh grade and if they do not like it, ask to move to another grade.”

The biggest challenge to bringing St. John schools up to 100 percent certification is finding certified special education teachers.

“There are not many (specializing in special education) graduating,” Laborde said. “Last year, there was one special education graduate at one university I went to and three at another.”

Still, school officials remain optimistic, hoping to reach the 100 percent mark as early as next year.