Courtesy of Jason Gaston.
Hoover teachers participate in summer training programs.
There is a reason why Hoover City Schools has by far Alabama’s highest percentage of National Board Certified Teachers: a commitment to training that keeps teachers ahead of technological and curricular innovations, all the while helping the system attract and keep the field's best teachers.
The annual learning conference: Learn.Teach.Inspire ran July 21-23 at Old Berry High School on Columbiana Road. More than 250 teachers took a break from summer to engage in this professional development, which included sessions on Google Classroom and virtual classrooms, in addition to core curricular subjects.
“This is about good teachers getting better – and great teachers getting better,” Ron Dodson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said. "Teachers are giving up their own time in the middle of summer. They aren’t being paid to come in here. They are here by choice.”
Dodson said Hoover City Schools has always focused on training, but is beefing it up this summer. The emphasis on instruction has paid off.
About 15 percent of Hoover’s 950 teachers have voluntarily sought national certification, which is administered through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. National Board Certification represents the pinnacle of professional development for teachers. Hoover City Schools’ percentage is five times the national average of 3 percent of teachers who seek National-Board Certification.
In addition to gaining knowledge on technology, virtual learning and other topics, educators attending the Learn.Teach.Inspire. conference are also being trained in traditional courses such as reading, math, language, science and social studies, according to Bryan Phillips, Chief Technology Officer for Hoover City Schools.
The school system expands its virtual learning program this fall and for the first time, will have two instructors teaching virtual classes. Barcley Gerdnt will be the full-time virtual instructor at Hoover High School and Chris Bell will handle virtual learning at Spain Park High School.
Phillips said the new instructors are part of Hoover’s commitment to meet the push by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and State Superintendent Tommy Bice to expand virtual learning in schools statewide.
“The goal is that within three years, a kid can come in as a ninth-grader and take everything virtual and never have to go into a classroom,” Phillips said. “A lot of our kids will benefit because more colleges are going that way.”
Dodson said a new state law makes it mandatory for school systems to have a virtual learning policy in place by 2016, but added that Hoover City Schools has a plan already in place to expand virtual learning. The addition of two full-time virtual instructors is allowing the system to expand the program this year, he said.
“We have 275 students between Hoover High and Spain Park who are true virtual, taking some of their classes online,” Dodson said. “There’s probably several hundred more who are taking one or two classes online."
Dodson said juniors and seniors this year are the typical virtual student, typically with a "B" average or better. The program is being expanded to offer virtual learning to some sophomores and freshmen. Online coursework, Dodson says, can be a tough transition for many.
“If their grades fall below a certain point, we move them back into a traditional schedule,” Dodson said. “We don’t let them stay out there floundering.”
Though Hoover has gained a national reputation for academics, Dodson said the school system can’t become complacent.
“There is always training we have to do, then there is training we want to do,” he said. “Everybody is here by choice. If you are a great district, you can’t stay there – you’ve got to get better.”