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Island teachers seek national credentials - Islander alum Prescott achieves master certification

By Katherine Sather

A Mercer Island High School teacher recently earned the highest credentials in the teaching profession, and even more Island instructors are working towards the distinction.

This year, English and humanities teacher Jamie Prescott earned National Board Certification, an honor held by about 900 teachers in Washington state. A group of 10 additional instructors from the district are working toward certification in a process that can take several years and extensive evaluations. While often a time-consuming and expensive task, it benefits the teachers and the district, said Mike Power, director of instructional services.

``They have to reflect deeply upon their (teaching) practice and hold it up to rigorous standards,'' he said.

National Board Certification is a voluntary process established by The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 10 years ago. It takes at least a year to complete, and in 2006 certification fees will increase to $2,500. Only about two percent of the nation's teaching population has achieved certification, said James Minichello, a spokesperson for the national board. The Lake Washington District has 30 certified teachers and the Bellevue district has roughly 80.

Each state provides incentives for teachers to be certified and many districts pay at least a portion of the fees. In Washington, the state provides a $3,500 salary increase to certified teachers. The Mercer Island School district paid the fees for applicants last year, but this year it's uncertain if the district will provide financial support, Power said.

In addition to money, teachers say the biggest hurdle in national certification is the time commitment. It can take 200 to 400 hours, and even more if teachers don't achieve certification on their first try.

``It's really time consuming,'' said Island Park third grade teacher Cheryl Sandstrom, who is working towards certification. ``We use what would have been free time.''

Nationwide, only about one third of teachers who applied in 2005 scored high enough for certification. Teachers must submit a portfolio of work that documents their success classroom and complete a series of computer-based tests. Portfolios, which are due in March, include student work samples, written reflections and even video recordings of class time. Computer-based testing takes place in spring, and involves several essay questions. Scoring is done over the summer by other certified teachers.

``An overwhelming majority of teachers who go through the process say its the best professional development experience they've ever had,'' Minichello said.

Sandstrom, who began teaching in 1977, has spent 16 years in the district. This is her second year teaching the third grade. In addition to the financial incentive, she decided to earn accreditation to improve her teaching skills.

``It's a way to reflect on my teaching and become a better teacher,'' she said.

It banks rewards for students too. Research shows that students taught by national board certified teachers perform better of on assessments.

``The teachers who earn this represent a gold standard in teaching,'' Minichello said. ``They are among the most effective in classrooms today.''

Prescott is one of 314 teachers in Washington who earned certification this year, including former Mercer Island instructor David Giles, who is on leave working in Africa. Washington has the 13th largest population of board certified teachers in the country.

From Lakeridge Elementary School, teachers who are working towards certification include Lori Brennan and Angela Carey. Island Park Elementary school teachers Cheryl Sandstrom and Gary Barone also are earning certification, along with Brody LaRock, instructor at the Crest Learning Center. High School teachers Adam Waltzer and Matt McClung are also working toward certified.

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