[Julie] Spause is one of three students recently awarded college scholarships from the county school system to help pursue degrees in education. In exchange, the students agree to come back to teach in some of the neediest schools in the area's largest school system.The idea has some real benefits, but the size of the program is not going to do much to help the school system overcome its teacher shortage. The program is budgted to fund 60 students, 15 in each of the four years of college. For a district that has an estimated 900 teaching positions open for next year, this program will fill 15 slots a year when fully implemented, or just 2 percent of the need assuming the need remains constant, which it won't as the baby boomer generation of teachers retire.
It's an uncommon strategy for a school system - no other one in the Baltimore region is doing anything similar - but others are considering the approach as they look for ways to recruit and retain teachers.
Harford County is weighing the idea, according to school officials there. And Donald A. Peccia, who helped engineer Baltimore County's scholarship initiative, is scheduled to speak this month at a seminar for the national Council of Urban Boards of Education in New York.
"Recruitment strategies are not the same as they were 25 years ago," Peccia, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources and governmental relations, said recently. "Just recruiting at school job fairs and colleges is not going to cut it. We need to be not just creative and innovative, we need to get the best of the best."
The scholarship program is designed to help meet the growing need for teachers in hard-to-fill areas such as science, math and special education, as well as federal requirements to staff every classroom with "highly qualified" teachers. For the coming school year, nearly 900 teacher vacancies must be filled in Baltimore County classrooms, Peccia said.
"We are an import state, meaning Maryland colleges don't graduate enough teachers," he said. "This program is a way to get Marylanders to stay in Maryland. It's also an opportunity for students to give back to the communities where they grew up. These are people who have a sense of the community."
But here is another limitation:
Under the program, students will receive $4,000 annually. The agreement requires them to teach one year in the county for each scholarship year or pay back the money.The scholarship, at $4,000 per year, is not insubstantial, but it does not cover even all the tuition at the schools the three students profiled will attend. Once student will attend Frostburg State University, where tuitiion for in-state students in 2008 will be $5,000, with an addtional $1,550 in fees. These totals are irrespective of room and board, which at Frostburg is estimated between $6,000 and $7,600 depending upon dorm and meal packages. In return the state gets one year of service for each year of scholarship the student uses.
Scholarship recipients must maintain Maryland residency, be enrolled full time in an approved teacher education program at a Maryland college, and commit to teach in a "critical need subject area" at a school with a high rate of children from lower-income families.
"So often students don't look to education as an option for a career," said Cheryl Brooks, a specialist in the school system's equity and assurance office who oversees the district's Future Educators Association. "We're trying to move toward a culture of cultivating educators. So many students deem higher-paying jobs as more rewarding. But education is one of the most rewarding ways to make a living."
Further, none of the students profiled or mentioned in the article will attend the state's flagship campus, the University of Maryland, College Park, where the academic standards and admissions standards are tougher.
However, as programs to recruit teacher go, this is a good step. The students themselves have avoided the stress of finding a first job after school and the county is getting some fresh ideas flowing for recruiting teachers. However, the program needs to get larger and the students receiving the scholarship need to win more money and be encouraged to attend the state's more rigorous schools, such as UMCP or Johns Hopkins.