Science

N.C. University Faculty Bail Out High School in Math, Science Class

By Bess Keller — October 03, 2006 3 min read
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A North Carolina university has stepped into a major breach at a high school on the state’s list of low performers, lending some dozen faculty members from its ranks to head up science and mathematics classes that lacked qualified teachers.

Southern High School in Durham, N.C., began the school year short seven teachers for math and science classes. Three math teachers hired from the Philippines were hung up in paperwork, and several other teachers had resigned shortly before the school year began, said Fred Williams, who directs recruitment and retention for the district.

Then a chance encounter at a community meeting between the provost of North Carolina Central University in Durham and the district’s math coordinator sparked the collaboration. “Sending those teachers was the right thing to do, no doubt about it,” said Beverly Washington Jones, the provost at the historically black institution. “The faculty rose to the occasion.”

But Ms. Jones, a historian who served on the Durham school board, also pointed to the larger problem of finding and keeping the math and science teachers the state and the nation need, a problem that grows especially acute in struggling schools with damaged reputations, such as Southern High. The school is one of 37 high schools in the state that could have been closed by court order before school opened this year because of poor student performance.

Mr. Williams, the human-resources officer for the Durham schools, said the 31,000-student district has had some success recruiting teachers for the two high schools that are subject to court order by offering signing bonuses of up to $3,000. The district paid only for teachers who met the federal “highly qualified” standard, which requires demonstrated knowledge of subject matter and a standard teaching license.

Still, while Hillside High School opened with full staffing, Southern did not, Mr. Williams said.

Teaching Not the Same

Officials from both the district and the university said there are advantages all around to the collaboration, which they hope will continue in some form into the future. Currently, the faculty members—who are from the college of arts and sciences—are committed for no more than this semester.

Ms. Jones, the provost, said that helping the high school students learn math and science was “a sure win” because it would produce stronger students for the university, which in turn could help produce the teachers the district needs. As part of its commitment to the community, the university already runs summer and Saturday programs stressing science, math, and technology for area precollegiate students, the provost said.

Students benefit, too, said Rodriguez Teal, the principal of Southern, who, like many educators in the district, holds degrees from North Carolina Central. “Students can make the connection more clearly” with higher education when they are taught by a college professor, he said.

Students in some of the courses, such as precalculus and calculus, also can earn college credit for their work. Under the district’s deal with the university, the district pays NCCU about $250 for every student in a class taught by a member of the university faculty—the going rate for a distance-learning course.

Mr. Teal acknowledged that the college teachers have had to “learn to be a little more patient and modify their instruction” since coming to the high school last month. They have just started taking a series of workshops to help them engage students and keep order in the classroom.

Eric Saliim, an adjunct biology professor at NCCU, said at first he turned down the offer to switch to teaching a high school class because five years ago he was a middle school teacher. “I told them … I’ve been spoiled by being on a college campus where basically you can talk to [students] for hours without any problems,” he said.

But he relented when all the spots didn’t get filled. And now he says he would consider staying on the full year if needed because the students don’t seem to be getting a fair shake. “One student came up to me and said, ‘We’ve had four teachers [in a class that was neither math nor science] since the beginning of school.’ ”

Experts applaud the university’s willingness to help out, but they also say a valuable opportunity will be lost if North Carolina Central, with its many school and community connections, doesn’t work together with the district on its most intractable problems.

“Don’t just address this problem with these people this year,” urged Eric Hirsch, the executive director of the Center for Teaching Quality, a research and advocacy group in nearby Hillsborough, N.C. “Address the long-term needs of developing highly effective teachers for Durham.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2006 edition of Education Week as N.C. University Faculty Bail Out High School In Math, Science Class


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