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Quality remains at issue Sunday, April 2, 2006
Charlie Breitrose 508-626-4407 Metrowest Daily News
More than one-quarter of MetroWest and Milford area school districts fall under the state average for highly qualified teachers on their staffs, and every teacher must meet those standards or districts face losing federal dollars.

The requirement comes from the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which was passed in 2001, said Nate Mackinnon, spokesman for the state Department of Education -- and the deadline is looming.

"Teachers are deemed highly qualified if they have a bachelor's degree, a Massachusetts teachers license and have demonstrated subject matter competency in each of the subjects they teach," Mackinnon said.  "The state is at about 93 percent, and the remainder have until the end of June to show they are highly qualified."

The requirement only covers teachers in core academic subjects, such as math, science, English, social studies, foreign languages and arts, Mackinnnon said.

"It doesn't look like you need physical education teachers to be highly qualified," Mackinnon said. "Or health or home economics."

Local districts falling under the state average are: Framingham, Assabet Valley Technical in Marlborough, Bellingham, Hopedale, Uxbridge and Tri-County Regional Technical in Franklin.

Among those, Framingham has the farthest to go to meet the standard, with 81.8 percent of its 603 teachers meeting the highly qualified mark, according to data from the state DOE Web site.

Framingham Superintendent Chris Martes said the problem generally comes in two areas: special education and teachers in the bilingual/English immersion program.

"We might have had some teachers with a credential in their country, but not here," Martes said.  "We need them because they are Portuguese speakers, but (they) are not where we want them to be for certification status."

The district could lose money from federal grants, such as Title I (for low income students) and special education.  This year, Title I brought in about $1.6 million, Martes said, but he did not know how much special education money Framingham received.

Martes is confident, however, that the dollars will not be taken away because the district is making strides toward meeting the mark.  Some teachers have waivers from the state, and he believes many others will make the grade by the deadline.

Four local districts met the 100 percent requirement, according to the state Web site:  Keefe Tech, Northborough, Millis and Northbridge.  Many others came within a percentage point or two.

Districts that have met, or are close to meeting the 100 percent level have been preparing for years to make the deadline.

In Milford, where 96.8 percent of teachers are highly qualified, the district altered its hiring policies to seek out highly qualified teachers, said School Committee Chairman Fran Small.

"We put in a policy that we are only going to hire teachers who are certified in the area teaching in and preferably majored in the area they teach in," Small said.

The policy has been in place for a few years, and Small said he likes what he has seen.

"(School officials) have been successful recruiting extremely qualified candidates, and many of them are newly out of college," Small said.  "They have been taught all of the new methodology, and have been through training in college that also prepares them to meet the requirements of the (statewide) MCAS (test)."

Meeting the challenge should not be a problem in Northborough and Southborough, said Charles Gobron, the director of curriculum for Algonquin High School and the Northborough and Southborough public schools.

"We’re in good shape, we’ve been on it for a while," Gobron said.

Most of the teachers hired in the three districts have certification when they are hired, Gobron said, and schools offer training programs to help teachers become highly qualified.

"We put it into the strategic plan three years ago," Gobron said.  "It didn’t hit us overnight."

Meeting the highly qualified requirements often is more difficult for older teachers than new ones, Gobron said.  Those teachers coming out of education schools received the skills to pass the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure -- needed to be highly qualified -- but the older teachers might have to brush up to pass the test.

Gobron said having top notch teachers is important, but just because a teacher can pass one test does not mean he or she is set for life.

"The whole idea is to not be highly qualified once and then fall behind," Gobron said.  "Teachers who want to be a professional are constantly upgrading their skills, so they can always be highly qualified."

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