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Fri., Oct. 9
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PCS parent questions hiring criteria


POTSDAM - A parent in the Potsdam Central School District has questioned the board of education’s decision to include dual certification in its criteria for the filling of a vacancy at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School.

Rachel Wallace addressed the board with her concern about the need for candidates to be dually certified in elementary education and literacy.

“I understand the preference for literacy certification of the incoming teacher is an effort to ensure that the teacher is trained in highly effective reading strategies,” she said. “While I agree with this strategy in theory, I’m concerned that by using narrow criteria our district may fail to consider a large cohort of applicants.”

She said such stringent criteria may deter qualified applicants from applying for the job, which could end up hurting students in the long run.

“Even in these difficult financial times, Potsdam Central should not limit its applicant pool by adhering to rigid requirements. We are still arguably the most desirable school district in Northern New York and should be able to hire the best applicants to teach our children,” she said. “I feel that this position in particular should go to someone with prior classroom experience outside of practicum or short-term substituting.”

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said it’s not unusual for the district to seek dually certified teachers.

“It’s not uncommon for schools to use dual certification as a criteria at the elementary level,” he said, explaining the board of education sets the criteria for hiring. The criteria looked at include the candidate’s academic performance, experience, and sometimes, often at the elementary level, dual certification.

“The district seeks to hire the best qualified candidates for our students,” Mr. Brady said. “We take this process very seriously, as it is one of the most important decisions we make.”

Mr. Brady said it’s fairly common for those seeking teaching jobs to be dually certified.

“The most common dual certifications are elementary, and either literacy or special education,” he said. “We feel this additional training tends to provide greater skill for working with a variety of students.”

For this particular vacancy, Mr. Brady said the additional literacy certification would be beneficial.

“With the state’s emphasis on teaching students to read at the elementary level and greater rigor in ELA (English Language Arts) with the new core standards, we find a degree in literacy very helpful.”

Mr. Brady added the hiring criteria isn’t an absolute and sometimes an impressive candidate may end up getting hired, even if they don’t meet all of the criteria.

“These are guidelines,” he said. “They are not absolute criteria.”

Regardless of whether the eventual hire meets all of the criteria, Mr. Brady said he’s confident that in the end the district does hire the best person for the job.

“We have a very rigorous hiring process. Candidates are interviewed by a committee of parents, teachers, administrators and community members. They reach a consensus on who best meets the criteria before they send the finalists to me,” he said.

Mr. Brady said he then interviews the finalists, references are checked, and he recommends a candidate to the board for approval.

Ms. Wallace said her concerns stem from an experience her daughter had last year when a long-term substitute was named to fill in for a teacher on maternity leave.

“Her replacement was a young teacher who had never had her own classroom,” she said. “My understanding is that her literacy certification made her a preferential hire this position.”

Based on last year’s experience, she said she’s worried about the remainder of the year for the third-grade class, where the vacancy exists.

“Dropping a new teacher into an established classroom in the middle of the year seems to be a difficult proposition at best,” she said. “It is because of our experience last year that I am deeply concerned about the rest of this third-grade classes year.”

Ms. Wallace said she would like to see the committee interviewing for this vacancy to put a little more emphasis on experience, rather than potentially ruling out qualified candidates simply because they aren’t dually certified.

“My request is that the board and the hiring committee consider that there are more variables at play with a midyear hire like this one and consider that classroom experience, especially in this case, could be much more valuable than any specific certification.”

Mr. Brady said he knows that not everyone is always going to be happy with the district’s hiring decisions, but he said he feels like the overwhelming majority of the time the district does get it right.

“We cannot guarantee everyone will be happy with our choices, but I find this to be rare, given the time and effort that goes into making our choices.”

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