Corinna Heggen didn’t face the daunting task of achieving National Board certification alone.
The ninth-grade English teacher at Schenectady High School worked toward the recognition with more than a dozen of her colleagues at the district. Together, they bounced ideas off one another and took studying retreats during the process, which takes upwards of 400 hours of work to complete.
“We were a strong support group,” she said. “We tried to look toward each other and not just our leaders.”
The result was 14 teachers in the district among the 156 recognized by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. There are now 56 educators in the district who have reached the level of certification known as the gold standard for the teaching profession. The city school district now has the second-largest number of nationally certified teachers in the state. Only New York City has more.
“It speaks greatly to the dedication and commitment of our educators,” said Laurence Spring, the district’s superintendent, following a brief ceremony at the high school Monday.
Sarah Adams, early childhood educator, Martin Luther King Magnet School
Susan Alviene, language arts teacher, Hamilton Elementary School
Alison Bonheim, English teacher, Mont Pleasant Middle School
Jillian Cady, English teacher, Mont Pleasant
Kerri Dalessandro, language arts teacher, Woodlawn Elementary School
Stefanie Graham, language arts teacher, Elmer Avenue Elementary
Corinna Heggen, English teacher, Schenectady High School
Amber Hernandez, early childhood teacher, Martin Luther King
Jude McQueen, middle childhood teacher, Pleasant Valley School
Melissa Montague, middle childhood teacher, Central Park International Magnet School
Desmond O’Connor, social studies teacher, Martin Luther King
Donna Phillips, early childhood teacher, Mont Pleasant
Daniel Scher, middle childhood teacher, Martin Luther King
Amy Wright, career and technical education teacher, Central Park
In total, 38 educators from the Capital Region were recognized for being nationally certified. Among other criteria, the designation requires teachers to undergo a rigorous review process and to compile portfolios of their work, including student samples and even video of their lessons.
“The more teachers we have at the gold standard, the better off our kids are going to be,” Spring said.
State Department of Education Commissioner John King Jr., during a recognition ceremony at Schenectady High School on Monday, lauded the city school district for motivating its teachers to complete the certification. He also credited the teachers for having the fortitude to undertake such a lengthy process while continuing to work full time.
“It reflects a real commitment on the part of the district toward professional development,” he said.
And that commitment is starting to bear fruit, said Maria Neira, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers. She said the graduation rate and the number of students earning Regents’ diplomas have increased at the district over the past 10 years, despite a number of challenges.
For instance, 78 percent of the students graduating in 2010-11 earned Regents’ diplomas, which was more than double the rate from 2001-02. The percentage of graduating students entering colleges and universities also increased from 74 percent to 80 percent over this same period. “Schenectady’s model is an example for every school district in the state,” she said. “Supporting teachers as they challenge themselves, using many different evaluative tools to improve as professionals so they can, in turn, raise student achievement.”
There’s a financial incentive for getting the certification — an annual stipend of $4,000 at the Schenectady school district. But teachers say the real motivation is to help them become better educators.
Alison Bonheim, an eighth-grade English teacher at Mont Pleasant Middle School, said the process prompted her and several colleagues to gauge the effectiveness of their lesson plans and then amend them in ways to improve outcomes. By doing a wholesale review of their work, she said, they can find elements that don’t seem particularly effective.
“We’ve gone back and changed a lot of activities in these units,” she said.
Desmond O’Connor, a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at the Martin Luther King Magnet School, emphasized how seeking the certification helped him develop as an educator. He said the process prompted him to take a more critical approach toward teaching.
“It’s an examination about your teaching and it causes you to rethink your approach,” he said. “I look at my teaching with a more critical lens now.”
They also found that some of their hard work during the process rubbed off on students. Bonheim said the hard work they showed in the classroom sets a good example for the youth they teach.
“We have to be a model for our kids,” she said.