A Springfield high school teacher is this year’s “Teacher of the Year” in Massachusetts. The award calls attention to a new initiative in the city’s schools. Central High’s Anne Marie Bettencourt has been helping establish the “9th grade academy” for the past five years. It’s a model being used now in all of Springfield’s high schools. Bettencourt says freshman demand a unique approach.
“We know through research that if kids don’t make it through 9th grade on the first try, there’s a fifty percent chance that those kids are not going to finish high school.”
Bettencourt says she herself came close to dropping out in tenth grade. She says she didn’t see the point of school until one teacher noticed her writing ability. And that’s what Bettencourt and her team strive to do for 9th graders — figure out how to reach them.
“When I see a lot of urban kids I see a lot of walls that are put up. And it might be because a high rate of teacher turn over, it might be because of what they’re bringing from home. And so that’s really the focal point of our job is to find the minute things. The head goes down you say something. If a kid walks in late. Those are all the clues that the kid wants you to notice them.”
Comissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell says Bettencourt is proof the district is moving in the right direction. But he says the city’s middle schools still need a lot of work.
“The challenge here is to make sure that the kind of excellence that Anne Marie represents is found throughout the whole school system.”
District officials say they hope to attract more qualified teachers, but realize pay is a problem. They say a tentative contract is being negotiated to increase district salaries.