LEWISTON — On his sixth day on the job and his first meeting with the School Committee, Superintendent Bill Webster recommended a new teacher training initiative that could be controversial.

Webster, who came to Lewiston after being the Ellsworth area superintendent, told committee members Monday night that he normally would not spring such a proposal on them so soon, but the deadline for applying for the federal grant is Jan. 25.

The U.S. Department of Education program, which could provide up to $3 million over five years to Lewiston schools and teachers, would allow some teachers who are interested to become nationally certified.

Nationally certified teachers would receive about $3,000 a year from the grant. They are also paid more by Lewiston’s labor contract and the state. The amounts could change, but now nationally certified teachers receive $1,000 more a year from Lewiston’s contract and $3,000 more a year from the state.

The training to get certified “is the best professional development available for enhancing student learning,” Webster said. “The very process makes teachers better instructors in the classrooms. It more strongly connects their practices with what they’re trying to achieve with students.”

Attaining national certification is a lengthy, involved process that would take most teachers about three years, he said.

Two teachers who have become nationally certified, Cathi Morin of Geiger Elementary School and Kristen Arbour of Farwell school, cautioned the committee that the process is difficult, demands much time but is rewarding. It’s not for all teachers, they said.

The training prompts teachers to evaluate how they’re teaching, Arbour said. “Am I doing this for the benefit of my students? Am I doing this because it was the next thing that came in the book? Am I doing this because it will look really great on the wall? You really have to stop and think ‘How is this going to help my kids?’” she said.

Both teachers said they became nationally certified to get higher pay, to challenge themselves and to help students.

If Lewiston were to receive the grant, only about half of the city’s schools would be able to participate, Webster said. Which schools would be picked for the training is a decision made by principals and himself after hearing input from teachers, Webster said.

As proposed, all teachers in those schools would receive training called Take One! which is an introductory to the national certification. It would require about 25 percent of the work to get nationally certified, Webster said.

Teachers who are interested would continue to work on an extensive portfolio and apply for certification. No teachers would be forced to go for national certification, Webster said.

Longley Elementary School Principal Linda St. Andre and Lewiston High School Principal Gus LeBlanc both praised the program, saying it would help teachers and students. The training “takes responsibility for student learning … not just teaching, but learning,” LeBlanc said.

Several School Committee members, including Walter Hill and Paul Dumont, were ready to vote in favor of the program Monday night. Others wanted to learn more. Ronella Paradis was bothered about what she heard, saying there are too many initiatives already.

“We’ve got too many things going on … Longley’s doing one thing, Montello’s doing another thing.” She asked to see a list of the programs to improve student learning, and said wants to hear how teachers feel.

Lewiston School Association Vice President Steve Gagne said he’s concerned the training would mean too much being demanded from teachers.

“They’re overwhelmed with what you’re asking them to do on a daily basis,” Gagne said, ticking off a host of initiatives already happening. What happens to those programs if the training is approved, he asked.

Lewiston teachers now have seven days a year for professional development. The initial Take One! program would require more than those seven days, Gagne said. Teachers would not have enough time, he said.

Webster said no decision has been made on which schools would be chosen. That decision would be made based on school needs.

The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal at their next meeting Jan. 24.

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