McDONOUGH — Henry County’s highest-paid teachers also are producing the county’s highest student pass rates, according to state data out this week.
Union Grove High teachers averaged $60,192.72 in annual pay during the 2010-11 school year, and their students earned the highest pass rates in math and English/language arts on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests that year, according to data from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. About 97 percent of first-time test takers at Union Grove met or exceeded state standards on both exams.
“I believe there are a couple variables that lead to our student achievement success,” Union Grove principal Tom Smith said. “First, we serve a community that expects us and their children to achieve and maintain student success. But most importantly, we have a building full of teachers who are highly skilled and highly motivated on their own. Administratively, we do everything in our power to provide them with whatever support they need and the rest is reflected in our results.”
Union Grove holds on to its best teachers.
“Salaries are probably higher because a lot of the teachers have been here a long time,” said Smith.
Data from the Governor’s Office revealed Union Grove High teachers led all other high schools in the Henry County School System in average years’ experience in classroom instruction, with an average 15.77 years in 2010-11. It also was a leading high school for the number of advanced degrees among its teaching staff with 75.
“Our best teachers don’t necessarily have advanced degrees,” said Smith. “Some do, but not all of them. The number of years’ experience a teacher has and the types of degrees they have mean very little to me when I am interviewing candidates for employment. I am more interested in how they answer the specific questions our team asks during the interview. I also rely on supervisors’ references from previous employment.”
Teacher pay, he noted, is based on a state formula that takes into account a teacher’s education level, experience, and expertise.
“I don’t believe educational experience is as important as prior work history and prior results,” added Smith. “Just because they have worked a lot of years does not mean they will automatically be successful. We have many excellent veteran teachers, but we also have many younger teachers as well.”
Tim Callahan, director of public relations at the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said experience and education have a role to play in cultivating successful teachers and improving student achievement.
“Experienced teachers can become ‘teacher leaders’ and as such contribute a great deal,” said Callahan. “[It is] not just to the students fortunate enough to have them, but also to the newer faculty members who can learn from their examples and seek their guidance as mentors or coaches.
“Such veteran teacher leaders also can be of help to a strong principal in his/her role as instructional leader in a school,” he added. “The longer a good ‘school team’ has been together, the better they are at teaching and learning — provided there is a strong sense of mission and purpose in the building and high expectations are set for both teacher and student.”
Smith said teachers typically join the faculty at Union Grove High with high expectations.
“When interviewing a teacher, I believe content knowledge is obviously very important, but just as important is their desire to want to be the best,” Smith said. “We ask candidates if they are willing to work hard enough to be the best.”
The administrator noted one question frequently asked of prospective teachers is how would they handle failure.
“We ask all the tough questions during an interview, because if they are not performing once hired, I want to be able to remind them about the questions we asked, and I want to remind them what their answers were,” Smith said. “That is pretty powerful.
“Generally, if we do our job and hire a highly self-motivated person, we can teach them what they need to know to be successful,” he said. “From there, as long as we treat our employees right, they will keep themselves motivated and work toward becoming the best at what they do.”