They worked together, they studied together and they recently were honored together. Five Prince William teachers have met the standards for "accomplished practice" set by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
They are: Karen Mirkovich, who teaches a combined first- and second-grade class this year at Marshall Elementary School; Lyndy Vanhoutan, a gifted-education teacher, also at Marshall; Blake Nicolai, an alternative-education teacher at New Dominion Middle School; and Jennifer Rhawn and Cynthia Baird, both math teachers at Brentsville District Middle-High School.
"The Prince William Five"--as candidate Vanhoutan describes the group--are the first in the county to achieve national certification.
"We are absolutely thrilled and so proud of these teachers," said Pam Gauch, associate superintendent for instruction.
The school system administration is discussing ways to compensate teachers who achieve the standards. The state already has stepped forward with incentive grants of as much as $27,500 over 10 years for teachers with national certifications.
The 100 percent passing rate in Prince William is far higher than the national passing rate, which hovers around 35 percent. This year, 2,965 teachers were attained certification nationwide, bringing the number of board-certified teachers across the country to nearly 4,800.
The purpose of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is to "improve student learning in America's schools by developing a new system of advanced, voluntary certification for elementary, middle and secondary school teachers."
The assessment process, which takes several months to complete and has been embraced by many education groups, includes analysis of student work and videotapes of classroom lessons, plus a full day of questions designed to test teachers' knowledge of their subject as well as classroom practices.
For the teachers in Prince William, who worked together on their portfolios for the project, becoming certified offered a way to show that they are good teachers without having to take a promotion out of the classroom.
Baird said the process has made her look at "anything and everything" she does in the classroom.
"On tests, I can't just put an X anymore. I have to write something. And if I see any improvement whatsoever, I try to comment on that as well," said Baird, who teaches Integrated Algebra and Geometry III, geometry and calculus.
Mirkovich said that going through the certification process has helped her fine-tune her teaching skills.
"I think it's gotten me to look in the content of what I'm teaching, to really become more familiar with what those concepts mean," she said.
For instance, a classroom lesson on the principles of sound "leads me into 'what is it about sound I really want to teach?' It's vibrations, it's high pitch, it's low pitch," Mirkovich said.
For Rhawn, board certification has helped her to see her role in the classroom as a coach, rather than someone spouting knowledge and asking students to recite it back to her.
"It's definitely made me look at student responsibility for learning," said Rhawn, who teaches Integrated Algebra and Geometry III, Algebra II, Algebra III and trigonometry. "They have to take responsibility and internalize what they're doing."