Pat Klapthor wants to elevate the teaching profession and improve her skills as a teacher.
So in the next school year, Ms. Klapthor and 23 other Columbia County teachers plan to seek certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
"This is a program that is trying to elevate the teaching profession, and I want to participate in it because of that," said Ms. Klapthor, a teacher at Euchee Creek Elementary School. "I am always seeking to improve my teaching, and I am always seeking to improve student performance and their ability to learn from the way I present material."
The Columbia County teachers who hope to achieve the national distinction are joined by more than 200 Georgia educators - a level of interest that has surpassed what Georgia Department of Education officials expected.
There are currently 60 National Board certified teachers in Georgia and 4,804 across the nation. There are none in Columbia County public schools.
"That's one of the goals we set - to put the most qualified teachers we can in every classroom," Columbia County school Superintendent Tommy Price said.
Richmond County has had one National Board certified teacher, but that teacher left the school system in 1998, said Donald Porter, director of public information. Mr. Porter said the school system is not aware of other teachers currently seeking national certification.
Georgia received $61,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to offer teachers a $1,000 subsidy to help cover the $2,300 fee to participate in the national certification process, said Ed Sikes, education program specialist with the state department.
The state began receiving applications June 12, and in the first day exceeded the 61 grants available. But additional money is expected to be made available for the state, Mr. Sikes said. As of Thursday, 171 teachers were on a waiting list. The deadline for final application to the National Board is Dec. 1.
"The increase has been overwhelming this year," Mr. Sikes said.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is an independent, nonprofit organization. Governed by a 63-member board of directors, it sets advanced standards in 30 teaching certificate fields for primary and secondary teachers.
National Board certification has only been available for seven years. This year, Georgia's education reform act increased the pay-raise for nationally-certified teachers from 5 percent to 10 percent. The state also reimburses successful candidates or school systems that show documentation they paid the fees for teachers.
The national certification process is rigorous, involving a yearlong assessment of a teacher's knowledge in a subject and their effectiveness in teaching their subject. Candidates are also measured on their ability to manage and measure learning.
Some states - including Georgia - automatically grant state teaching certificates to educators who hold a National Board certificate. The success rate among candidates across the nation is 50 percent, said Pat Wheeler, National Board vice president of marketing and communications.
Because the certification process has only been around seven years, Ms. Wheeler said the organization does not have data to show a direct link between teachers with National Board certification and improved schools. However, she said, they have plenty of anecdotes from teachers impressed with the process.
"We're not going to make a claim," Ms. Wheeler said. "Obviously, if you have better teachers, you should have better schools."
Even before education reform, interest in Georgia was already climbing. The number of Georgia candidates for the National Board certification jumped from 70 in the 1998-1999 school year to 134 in 1999-2000.
Although it's hard to predict how the increased pay incentive will continue to affect the number of candidates from the state, Ms. Wheeler said other states that have improved incentives have seen increases in the number of candidates.
Mr. Sikes said that, although the state incentives are part of the reason behind the increased interest in Georgia, educators also want the same professional recognition as certified public accountants or board-certified physicians.
"Teachers have that same desire for that level of validation and professionalism," he said.
Columbia County's school system has put its support behind its teachers seeking certification by offering financial assistance if needed, monthly support meetings and contact with current National Board certified teachers.
The school board has already approved a budget amendment for $7,500 to reimburse teachers for their initial $300 application fee. And, Mr. Price said, if federal subsidies or other grants are not available to cover the remaining fees, the school system plans to pick up the tab and be reimbursed by the state.
Mr. Price said he also hopes to get board approval for a bonus or additional pay raise for teachers who obtain the national certificates.
Connie Davis, Columbia County schools personnel director, said the process will benefit the individual teachers and the school system.
"Our motivation of course is to provide the very best teachers for our students, and we see this as just one other avenue to attract the very best teachers from around the nation," Ms. Davis said. "And as long as we can get our board to support us in this process to help us develop people into this caliber teacher then it's going to pay dividends to our students, and that's the bottom line."
Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112.