Kapolka first in district to be nationally-certified

By Lynn R. Parks

Pat Kapolka, a fifth-grade teacher at Frederick Douglass Intermediate School, has become the first teacher in the Seaford School District to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The national certification comes after completion of six papers, four tests and two videos that meet the standards set by the board. “This was much more strenuous than anything else I have done in my career,” said Kapolka, 53, Seaford. “It was so much work, but it was a wonderful professional growth experience and a wonderful personal growth experience.” “We are extremely proud of her accomplishments,” said Mellie Kinnamon, spokeswoman for the district. “It is a exhaustive process and it only confirms for us what we already knew, that Mrs. Kapolka is a master educator.” Since Delaware started participating in the program in 1996, 110 teachers in the state have become nationally-certified, according to Patricia Bigelow, education assessor for the state Department of Education. Kapolka was one of 43 who were notified in November that they had obtained certification; 76 teachers had applied to the board last year for certification. “That is a little bit higher than the national average of success,” Bigelow said. Nationally-certified public school teachers in Delaware receive a 12-percent hike in the state portion of their salaries. State contribution to teachers‚ salaries varies district to district, but averages 70 percent, Bigelow said. But a boost in pay is not the only benefit to completing the certification process, Kapolka said. Both she and Patricia Cleary, a second-grade teacher at West Seaford Elementary who missed certification by just 1/12th of a point, said that the study necessary to complete the required portfolio is very helpful in the classroom. “The process is intensive but is a wonderful experience,” said Cleary, whose video demonstrating how she “builds a classroom community” cost her the fraction of a point. She plans to redo the video; board rules give her two years to do so. Kapolka, who has been at Frederick Douglass for seven years and with the district for nine, enlisted the help of her husband, Richard, in doing her “building a classroom community” video, as well as with a video of a math lesson.

“The math lesson was whole classroom instruction, so it was pretty easy, with one person talking at a time,” she said. But the building community video had to show how she got groups throughout the classroom involved in a project and managed to keep all the students involved in their work. “A lot of people were talking at once and with 28 students in here and no carpet to absorb the sound, it was very difficult to tape,” she said. The six papers that were required focused on professional accomplishments, family and home connections, a science lesson, a math lesson, building a classroom community and writing. The four tests, administered by computer at the Sylvan Learning Center in Salisbury, were each 90 minutes long and covered social studies, reading, science and health. They were administered one after the other, with 10-minute breaks between tests and a 1-hour lunch break. “After I took the tests, I had more compassion for the fifth graders who have to take a whole week of [state] tests,” Kapolka said. “I was exhausted. And I thought, ‘This is what our fifth-graders are going through.’ And with me, if I didn’t do well, I had another chance. With the students, not doing well means they won’t pass.” Kapolka said that from August 2000 through March 2001, she devoted at least one day every weekend to developing her portfolio. According to Bigelow, teachers put in between 200 and 400 hours to apply for certification. But Kapolka does not regret the time spent on the process. “It rejuvenated me,” she said. “I have been teaching for over 25 years and this gave me more interest in it. I know that I will be retiring in a few years, but I doubt that I will get out of education right away. I will still want to be involved in it.” She encourages other teachers to undergo the process. And according to Kinnamon, the Seaford School District is ready for more certifications. A new plaque hanging in the district office has Kapolka’s name on it, recognizing her as the first in the district to be certified. “There are lots of blank plates on the plaque,” Kinnamon said. “We hope a lot of folks follow in her footsteps. We believe we have a lot of master teachers in the district.”

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