By Melissa McDonald
Twice every year, teachers in the state of Maryland earn and renew their teaching certification and this process is overseen by the Maryland State Department of Education. There are over one thousand certificates renewed and reissued every year in Baltimore City alone and this job is performed by a district Certification Specialist, known as a CAP, who has Certified Authorized Partner status. The Certification Specialist in our district office is supported by two Certification Authorized Partner Associates, known as CAPAs.
For years the BCPSS Office of Certification has been plagued by complaints of unresponsiveness and failure. Often, members complain of not receiving a response from the Certification Specialist until their certifications have been dropped. It does not have to be this way. In neighboring Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County, there are multiple Certification Analysts who are responsive and proactive with their educators’ certification needs. However, our Department of Human Capital in Baltimore City Public Schools continues to fail to meet their duty even at the most basic level–to issue certificates to those who submit everything correctly and to respond to basic, straightforward questions.
On December 8th, 2020, BTU representatives submitted a certification petition to the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, signed now by 372 educators, demanding that the Office of Human Capital be held accountable for ensuring all BTU members’ certification questions and that requests be answered within 10 days. In January 2021, Jeremy Grant-Skinner, the Chief Human Capital Officer, agreed in writing to a 10-day response time to all certification questions. In subsequent discussions with the district, BTU representatives have been promised access to a tracking system, designed to show the progress on individual certification requests.
More recently, the Office of Human Capital has committed to hiring a new CAP employee as an attempt on the part of BCPSS leadership to remedy their failure to properly staff and adequately run the Office of Human Capital. The CAP training process is extensive and it takes between six months and one year before the new hire is able to process and address certification requests and inquiries. This remedy does not address the teachers who need certification support and information now.
Many teachers are struggling today with certification. New teacher hires, those on conditional certifications and those from out of state are being told by the district they will have to wait up to four months to receive a transcript evaluation. Conditionally certified teachers only have a two-year window to complete their certification requirements. These new hires are left without direction about what coursework to take this Fall.
At the time of writing this article, Dr. Sonja Santelesis has yet to comment or respond to the BTU petition. Linda Chinnia, the Chair of the Board of School Commissioners has assured BTU that the “CEO and her appropriate staff will review and respond to the concerns in a timely manner,” but this has failed to occur. BTU representatives have been promised access to a certification tracking system, but this has yet to happen.
Certification is a high-stakes process which can lead to either teacher tenure or termination. BTU knows the situation is dire and is actively fighting to improve this process in our district and to support educators who want to submit or renew their certifications.
If you are struggling to get answers to your certification questions, be sure to direct your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and to copy email@example.com as well as your Field Representative and Building Representative so that your union can support you through this process. Please consider signing our petition and adding your own testimony.