Getting the word out at Peoria Unified: More teachers could apply for prestigious certification

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A group of Peoria Unified School District teachers are getting the word about the most respected professional certification in K-12 education.

The result could be a marked increase in the number of teachers at PUSD who are National Board certified, a prestigious professional credential that only 3% of teachers nationwide achieve.

PUSD Chief of Academic Services Kendra Bell said the district is fortunate to have teachers who mentor those interested in the program.

“Students in Peoria Unified benefit from having dedicated and passionate educators who consistently invest time and energy in their professional growth,” she said.

Research in a number of states throughout the country has shown that students of National Board Certified Teachers have improved outcomes.

For example, a 2017 study by Mississippi State University found kindergarten and third-grade students taught by a National Board certified reading teacher perform at a significantly higher level on literacy assessments than peers on average.

Centennial physics teacher Melissa Girmscheid said she and three other Peoria Unified educators — Jan Ogino, Jennifer Pulbratek and Melissa Shaver — have been running the Peoria NBCT Network, offering pre-candidacy courses for teachers to explore the process of certification on district professional development Mondays.

The Arizona K12 Center helps the network with training and curriculum.

Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to coordinate the National Board certification program in Arizona, support candidates throughout the process, and provide funding for eligible candidates.

Peoria has six National Board Certified Teachers.

As a result of the network, 14 teachers are currently taking the pre-candidacy course, which runs through May.

“We relied on principals and word-of-mouth to spread the word at the beginning of the year and have held our pre-candidacy course since September,” she said. “Once teachers complete the pre-candidacy course, they can declare candidacy and receive coaching from us on those Mondays and are eligible for financial support from the Arizona K12 Center,” Ms. Girmscheid said.

There has been a groundswell of Arizona teachers applying for this certification due to state funds allocated last year to cover the cost of the National Board certification process and related professional learning for 200 Arizona teachers.

There are around 150 to 200 new candidates annually state-wide. However, about 400 teachers applied for certification in the last year, doubling the normal amount, according to the Arizona K12 Center.

Ms. Grimscheid said Peoria’s 14 teachers could become candidates. It is unclear if state funding will be available for assistance, but assistance is available through the Arizona K12 Center and the Arizona Education Association, she said.

“I think we’ll have a large number of them do so in the next year,” she said. “The beauty of the pre-candidacy course is that they know exactly what they are getting into and have a lesser chance of dropping out of the candidate process.”

The process to become board certified is very rigorous and can take multiple years to complete.

There are four components teachers are required to complete in order to achieve National Board certification. Three components focus on their work in the classroom, in which candidates provide data, student work samples, videos, and written commentary to provide evidence of their accomplished teaching in practice. The last component is an assessment with multiple choice and short essay questions.

All four components can be completed in one year or over three years. Each component costs $475.

Ms. Ogino, a NBCT at Heritage Elementary School in the Peoria district, said becoming nationally certified was the best thing she’s ever done because it is the only professional development certification that forces educators to think about everything they are doing in a way that affects student learning.

A number of benefits come with certification —  some districts offer compensation, whether it is a monitory stipend or a percentage of the educators annual salary, or some other method, and universities often offer graduate credit to teachers pursuing certification.

Board certification can open doors to leadership roles that allow educators to advance their careers while staying in the classroom — mentoring, leading professional development efforts, and advocating for policy changes.

“In other professional developments you might get ideas, but not implement them,” she said. “But with national certification, you are  constantly being coached, you are thinking about your process in a broad way, in a way that affects the entire class and individuals, and not in a scripted way. It is very organic, which is not typically what teachers do, especially in large districts.”

While Arizona tends to rank at the bottom in the country for education, the state surprisingly ranks closer to the top when it comes to national statistics about NBCTs.

Arizona is 18th in the country for the total number of NBCTs, 9th for new NBCTs, and 14th for NBCTs who renew their certificate, according to Arizona Education News Service.

NBCTs tend to be very reflective about their teaching.

Ms. Ogino said NBCTs are members of learning communities, very collaborative and understand they don’t live in a vacuum.

They are also committed to their students and their learning, she said.

“When I hear and see myself make a mistake, I can pivot so I’m not harming my students because I know when I’ve screwed up, and I fix it,” she said. “It’s not just about money in the classroom, but about building a better workforce and teacher efficacy. The person in the classroom and the quality in the room matters.”

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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