Last year, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced that there were roughly 180 new National Board Certified teachers in Illinois — 20 of them, or 10 percent of the state total, were from Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97, according to National Board data.  

In 2018, no other school district in the state had more new Board-certified teachers than District 97, which was tied for 24th among school districts nationwide that had the most new Board-certified teachers that year. 

National Board Certification is widely considered to be the gold standard in the teaching profession. The rigorous process of earning the advanced credential, which teachers do voluntarily, can take up to three years to complete and can cost thousands of dollars. 

The results, however, are worth the investment said Carrie Kamm, D97’s senior director of equity. Kamm said that the two dozen Board-certified teachers named in 2018 were the first cohort to finish the two-year certification process. 

Another 27 teachers in the district are currently going through the process — three of them are on track to earn their Board certification this year while the remaining 24 will earn theirs next school year. 

The National Board for Professional Standards, which administers and governs the National Board Certification, cites reams of academic studies, much of it funded by the organization, showing that Board-certified teachers lead to improved academic outcomes and better classroom environments for students. 

 One comprehensive study by researchers at the University of Washington Bothell’s Center for Education Data & Research published in 2015 (and was not funded by the National Board) estimated that Board-certified teachers “produce annual learning gains that are about 4-5 percent of normal learning gains at the elementary school level, about 15 percent of annual learning gains in middle school math, and about 4 percent of annual learning gains in middle school reading.” 

Kamm said that D97 doesn’t have hard data pointing to increased academic outcomes for students with Board-certified teachers — particularly since many of the teachers who have so far completed the certification in D97 teach in content areas, such as music and design, where student academic growth is hard to quantify. 

Nonetheless, she said, the credential yields real dividends that pay off in spades in the classroom, particularly in the form of a more personalized, detail-oriented teaching style. 

“You learn how to pay attention to every nuance that’s happening in the classroom,” said Kamm, who herself earned Board certification. “A key element of National Board work is keeping your knowledge of students at the center of everything you do.” 

Kamm said that D97 is unique among districts nationwide when it comes to incentivizing teachers to go through the rigorous Board certification process. For starters, there’s the $10,000 stipend that’s added to their annual base salary if they earn the credential. The extra money, formally called an annual recognition, was introduced to the district in the teacher contract approved back in 2015. 

Kamm said that based on her conversations with district leaders and cohort facilitators across the state, the $10,000 annual recognition set by D97 is much higher than that set by other districts in Illinois. 

“What’s more typical is somewhere in the $1,000 range,” Kamm said. “Our $10,000 recognition is certainly unique and speaks to the belief and commitment of the board and [D97 Supt. Carol] Kelley. Through their negotiations, they’ve indicated that supporting best practices among teachers is really important.” 

Kamm said that, along with the $10,000 stipend, another “equally” motivating factor is the “opportunity to participate in professional learning that’s personalized to the work and experience of student learning that you have in your classroom.” 

In addition, she said, teachers in D97 often have the opportunity to go through the Board certification process with their peers. 

“This year, in our current cohort, there are three teachers from Lincoln going through the certification training together,” Kamm said. “And the majority of the design department across Brooks and Julian are going through the process together.” 

The district, she said, also offers the $10,000 annual recognition to support staffers, such as school nurses, social workers and speech pathologists, who may not be eligible to earn Board certification, but can nonetheless earn certifications that are equivalent to it. 

“This is really a testimony to our teachers’ and staff’s commitment to their own professional development,” Kamm said. 


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