Friday, January 18, 2013

Making a Difference

I was elected to the Wood County Board of Education for two terms (1992-2000), and served as the president of the West Virginia School Boards Association during my last year. Perhaps the most common lament I heard from fellow school board members around the state was bemoaning how little power we possessed. Many of us wanted to make a difference, but couldn’t see how anything could get done, given all the complex state and federal rules and regulations pertaining to education. It has been over a dozen years since my service ended, but one policy change we made two decades ago is still paying dividends today. As reported recently in the news, Wood County continues to lead the state of West Virginia in the number of National Board Certified teachers.

In the early ‘90s, merit pay was favored by some national leaders as a remedy to education deficiencies around the country. I was skeptical, because I could see the potential for lots of problems with favoritism, but if it could be based on objective merits, then I was interested. The best available non-biased measure in my mind was the then-relatively-new National Teacher Certification Board, which was designed to recognize outstanding teachers across the country. Just across the river from us, the state of Ohio began offering such a bonus for their teachers. We first tried to lobby legislators to grant a bonus to West Virginia teachers who obtained this certification, but it failed to get enough support. So we decided not to wait on the state, and instead to offer it as a local bonus to be paid from our excess levy proceeds. Since the state of Ohio had set a $3000 bonus, we decided to offer $3500.

We wanted to reward the outstanding teachers in our system, and encourage more of our employees to strive for this high achievement level. It would also serve as a recruiting tool to attract good teachers. Most importantly, it would benefit our children.

While any salary enhancement was appreciated, the teacher organizations would have preferred an across-the-board, flat rate pay raise (as did the administrators, although they preferred percentage increases rather than a specific amount). So this special bonus was spearheaded by—rather than merely approved by—the school board members. Eventually, the state legislature joined us and offered a similar statewide bonus of $3500 (thus resulting in a $7000 raise to qualifying teachers in Wood County).

There were other innovative policies our board initiated during my tenure (such as tuition reimbursement, Local School Improvement Council matching grants, extra pay for extra duty pay enhancements, extended experience increments, and classroom supply allocations, just to name a few), but this one is still garnering press and reaping benefits to this day. Educational leadership isn’t easy, and advances are incremental rather than dramatic, but board members must pursue creative solutions to improve the future for our children. You can make a difference!

[To see an article in Edutopia about my school board days (including pictures) check out]

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