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CKSD facing special education teacher shortage

A shortage of special education teachers has become so critical that the Central Kitsap School District and three of its neighbors are pondering alternative teacher certification standards.

A grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) could help CKSD — along with Bremerton, North and South Kitsap — ease the crunch.

Area school districts also are low on math, science, foreign language and technology teachers, but the situation is particularly difficult in the special education field. The Olympic Educational Service District recently reported that 20 special education positions are likely to go unfilled next year in 13 districts.

OSPI’s request for grant proposals targets three groups for alternative certification.

The first are school district employees who work as para-educators or in other support positions and have associate’s degrees or less; the second group is people employed by the school district who have bachelor’s degrees or higher; the third group is people with bachelor’s degrees or higher in a subject area corresponding to the shortage.

“The whole idea is you pay someone as a teacher and they do an all-year internship in the class. It is more like job training,” said Scott Menard, CKSD’s assistant superintendent for human resources.

The program would require the districts to partner with a university to arrange formal training for new teachers. Individual teacher education plans would be crafted, according to the grant application. Teachers would attend and teach school at the same time, and would work closely with a mentor teacher.

Menard said he has contacted Western Washington University to inquire about such a partnership, but stressed the concept is in its fledgling stages.

Although district representaives agreed there is “tremendous interest” in the program from potential candidates, they debated the merits of the grant at a Feb. 4 meeting at CKSD’s Jenne-Wright administration building.

The grant wouldn’t provide enough funding, some said, and strict regulations might render the measure useless. In addition, several educators wondered which professional fields would be closely related to special education.

“I think they have this boxed in so narrowly, I don’t know if it will work,” one official said.

There are also a lot of unanswered questions, Menard said, including how the alternative hires would be classified and where they would fit in to union bargaining.

Some district employees defended the proposal as a creative means of recruiting new hires.

“I really believe in bringing people in from other routes,” said a district official who asked not to be identified. “They bring in a work -force perspective that other teachers don’t have. I like the balance.”

Another official countered that his district had problems with teachers recruited from industry, including harsh disciplinary methods and low retention rates.

Menard said the CKSD is actively recruiting for its open special education positions. Even if the districts forgo the grant, it won’t spell disaster, he added.

“I don’t think it’s as critical for us. We are doing a lot of recruitment. It would just be one more leg on the bench,” Menard said.

A model for alternative certification

Although alternative teacher certification for math, science and other hard-to-fill academic positions are now hotly debated, such methods have been used for 30 years in the Central Kitsap School District’s vocational education classes.

Rich Bennet, an automotive technology teacher at Olympic High School, left his job as a technician at a car dealership after he sustained a back injury.

Now a second-year teacher, Bennett is halfway through the eight courses he is required to take to complete his certification. He enjoys the job despite some surprises.

“I never imagined how many hours teachers spend grading papers and developing curriculum,” Bennett said.

Bruce McBurney, director of career and technical education for CKSD, said luring teachers out of the industry is a good way to get qualified candidates into vacant jobs — some with academic degrees and others with skills culled from years of experience.

“They go through a probationary period for two years, and during that time they take a series of classes that cover methods of teaching and course organization,” McBurney said.

However, even the vocational sector has struggled with shortages in computer-related positions because of competition from higher-paying industry jobs, McBurney said. The district had to cancel a graphics class at Klahowya Secondary School because no teacher could be found.

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