Melissa Plank, left, a teacher at Simon's Middle School, Fleming County, gets notes from Brian McDowell, a teacher at Mason County Middle School, during a National Board certified teacher mentoring session. Photo by Bobby Ellis March 7, 2016

Melissa Plank, left, a teacher at Simon’s Middle School, Fleming County, gets notes from Brian McDowell, a teacher at Mason County Middle School, during a National Board certified teacher mentoring session.
Photo by Bobby Ellis March 7, 2016

By Mike Marsee

For a very small handful of teachers, the road to National Board certification sometimes leads to a Mexican restaurant in Flemingsburg.

The five teachers who are pursuing certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards gather there to meet with Bobbie Jo Vice, a fellow Fleming County teacher t who  has her certification and  serves as a mentor to teachers who are in various stages of the three-year process.

Vice has the support of school officials in Fleming County, which is one of a number of districts that is making a concerted effort to emphasize and invest in National Board certification. From using grant funds to reimburse National Board candidates for their expenses to providing mentors such as Vice to help them navigate the process, more districts are doing more to promote certification.

“When I went for my certification there was some help – we had funding for substitute days – but this is good because you have a group that you can go to for help. You know that the administrators are behind it and are willing to put the time and effort into it – and the money. It makes you feel valued as a teacher,” said Vice, a 1st-grade teacher at Flemingsburg Elementary school.

The Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching (KyNT3) sees National Board certification – which signifies that teachers have gone beyond the basic requirements of their state and have developed and demonstrated the advanced knowledge, skills and practices required of an outstanding educator – as a way to improve education for all Kentucky students. The Kentucky General Assembly placed value on it in 2000 by putting into law (KRS 161.131), which established the goal of having at least one National Board certified teacher (NBCT) in every Kentucky school by 2020. Suzanne Farmer, the director of KyNT3, said she’s happy to see administrators doing the same.

“I think a lot of district leaders are starting to see that National Board isn’t just something extra; it’s helping their teachers perfect their craft. It weaves seamlessly with the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, and as teachers and schools and districts are looking to support equity, board certification is one way that we can guarantee that every student gets an accomplished teacher every day,” Farmer said.

Farmer said much progress has been made toward that goal, though there is still much to be done. Eighty-eight Kentucky teachers earned National Board certification last year, and the state ranks sixth nationally in the percentage of teachers who are National Board-certified (7.83 percent) and ninth in the total number of National Board-certified teachers (3,273), according to statistics from the National Board.

Farmer said another 763 teachers are pursuing certification, and many of them are being encouraged by their districts. KyNT3 offers grants to cover candidates’ expenses, and teachers in 17 Appalachian districts can use Race to the Top funds to cover candidate fees. Some districts are even putting additional funds behind their candidates.

“I have had districts have reached out to me to say, ‘How can we support our teachers?’” Farmer said. “Schools and districts are starting to look at the data and realize that we’re a long way away from the 2020 goal. Forty percent of our schools still don’t have National Board-certified teachers.”

Fleming County is using Instructional Transformation grant funds for scholarships for its cohort of candidates. They work with Vice, who has been certified for eight years and was recruited by the district to help the new candidates, and Brian McDowell, an NBCT from nearby Mason County Middle School.

“This is a way for them to encourage teachers to work in that direction,” Vice said.

Farmer said Washington County is also using Instructional Transformation funds for NBCT candidates, and Bellevue Independent is using funds set aside by its board of education.

Bobbie Vice, left, and Brian McDowell give notes to Jenny Bays and Melissa Plank during a mentoring session. Photo by Bobby Ellis March 7, 2016

Bobbie Vice, left, and Brian McDowell give notes to Jenny Bays and Melissa Plank during a mentoring session.
Photo by Bobby Ellis March 7, 2016

Some districts have been going the extra mile to recruit teachers. In Estill County, which currently has no NBCTs, officials are considering creating candidate cohorts to prepare teachers for the certification process, with a larger plan of using board-certified teachers as teacher leaders.

“Estill County is really a success story. They reached out to us a couple of months ago and said they wanted to learn more about board certification. They are matching the incentive from the KyNT3 grant for any teacher who wants to pursue certification, and they went from one candidate to 12 in a month,” Farmer said. “The districts are doing exactly what we wanted, which is to invest in this themselves.”

In Fleming County, part of that investment takes the form of twice-monthly meetings with Vice and her group. They initially were meeting once a month to work their way through the process, but recently added a second monthly meeting in more informal setting, such as in their after-school get-together at El Caminante to talk about where they are in the writing process.

“The five teachers are all in different areas and they’re in different places of their work on the components,” Vice said.

Farmer said having the support of teachers who already are National Board certified is vital for new candidates. She said research by the Education Professional Standards Board has shown that teachers in schools without NBCTs are half as likely to pursue certification as teachers in schools with NBCTs.

“We know it’s really hard to be the first one. I was the first one in my school,” said Farmer, an NBCT who is on leave from Toliver Elementary School (Danville Independent).

Vice said she knows how valuable the support of NBCTs can be for candidates.

“In my school, we have six teachers who are National Board certified right now, which is a big encouragement,” she said. “Other people can see the benefits of having certification, and it’s a good way to get your Rank I certification.

“Plus, it’s an authentic reflection on your practice. Students can see you take more ownership in your teaching and it leads to being a better teacher leader overall.”

In addition to a lack of support, there can also be geographic and cultural barriers to certification. Oldham County has the highest percentage of NBCTs in Kentucky at 22 percent, followed by Franklin County at 21 percent and Eminence Independent at 20 percent, while the state’s Appalachian region is at about 1 percent. (The national average is 3 percent.)

Farmer said some candidates have fought a battle in which they were believed to consider themselves superior to their colleagues if they pursued certification.

“We are really trying to get the message across that board certification doesn’t mean you are better than other teachers, it means you are better than you were,” Farmer said.



National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Suzanne Farmer

Bobbie Jo Vice