Brian Moore grew up in Prince George's, graduated from High Point High School in Beltsville and, after college, returned to the county to do something he thought was vitally important: teach.
He knew that the county had a shortage of teachers and that many schools were struggling.
"I wanted to give back," said Moore, now 29. "It just felt natural."
The only kink: Moore was a history major at the University of West Virginia who never earned a teaching certificate. In the lingo of the education world, Moore was labeled a "provisionally certified" teacher when he accepted a full-time job teaching history at Drew Freeman Middle School in Suitland four years ago.
Since then, state education officials have been pressuring Prince George's to reduce its percentage of provisionally certified teachers, which is at a state-high 18 percent. The governor has said that within a few years, he will begin to withhold some funds for counties that have a high number of provisional teachers. And last month, new Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts instructed her staff not to hire any more.
For Moore, however, such talk is disturbing. Moore, who now teaches at Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville, says many provisionally certified teachers are just as effective--and in some cases better--than many fully certified teachers.
"A lot are college educated and hold master's degrees," he said. "To say all the problems schools have is because of them is a quick way out and makes them an unfair scapegoat. I know a lot who are certified, and they do not have the enthusiasm and fire."
In fact, the level of experience among provisional teachers varies greatly. Some are certified to teach in other states but simply need to pass a test or take a college course or two to gain Maryland certification. Others need dozens of college credit hours before they are certified.
State education officials say certification is important because new teachers need training in more than just subject matter.
A Washington Post report last week pointed out that a higher percentage of provisionally certified teachers are assigned to struggling schools in generally poorer neighborhoods inside the Beltway than to more affluent schools outside. Often those teachers are new, have less experience and are unprepared to handle the challenges, leading to a high turnover rate.
But Moore said there are dedicated teachers at those schools. He said that he needed 18 credit hours to become fully certified and that he began taking them the summer after his first year as a teacher. In June, he completed the final course work and now is fully certified. But he doesn't feel he was doing a poor job before and says provisional teachers should stick with it.
"I'd say to other [provisional] teachers that they've come this far, and nothing's easy that's worth something," he said. "Teaching is still a noble profession, and you're a professional. You have to do the best that you can."
Metts has been busy restructuring her central office staff, trying to eliminate about 150 positions to save money and streamline the administration. Next, look for her to revamp the way the county's 185 schools are divided into 20 clusters, each overseen by a chief educational administrator.
That organizational structure was developed by Metts's predecessor, Jerome Clark, who thought it would give more autonomy to the clusters than the previous system of having the schools managed by six area superintendents.
But Metts said she does not like the fact that each CEA, while responsible for overseeing a cluster, must double as a principal of an individual school. She believes the dual duty compromises the CEA's effectiveness at both tasks. She said she favors keeping the schools divided into 20 clusters but likely will find another way to manage the schools--perhaps returning to some type of system with area superintendents.
Metts apparently has worked out a final plan to address a controversial magnet school busing issue.
Last month, the school board voted to end door-to-door busing for the county's 12,000 magnet school students, requiring them instead to be picked up at cluster stops. The move would save the system about $1.5 million, which will be redirected to other needs, including teacher pay raises.
But parents said the change would make it difficult--and potentially dangerous--for many students who live far from the cluster stops.
Metts, who has met twice with a parent advisory group to discuss the issue, declined to go into detail about her solution.
But apparently she has decided to continue door-to-door service for students who live in remote areas, and to phase in the cluster stops. Changes to bus routes and the locations of the cluster stops will be posted on the school system's Web site, www.pgcps.pg.k12.md.us, to make it easier for parents to figure out where to take their children.
Metts intends to send a letter to magnet-school parents explaining her solution as early as this week.