Critical shortages of fully-credentialed Special Education teachers are a well-documented national problem, with data showing that the number of Special Education credentials issued in California decreasing 21% from 2011 to 2013. As the demand for Special Education professionals increases, the consequence of this teacher shortage creates challenges for school districts across the country.
To respond to the need for qualified Special Education teachers, St. Mary’s College of California (SMC) Kalmanovitz School of Education has created an innovative, reciprocal partnership with the Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD). Under the program, MDUSD employees currently serving as Special Education assistants in the classrooms or serving individual students as one-to-one assistants, are enrolled in a two-year program with extensive and intensive coaching and classroom support that helps them earn an intern credential for Mild/Moderate Special Education that deems them to be highly qualified Special Education teachers.
“We are incredibly proud of this opportunity for staff who, on a daily basis, work with, care for, and have a profound and personal impact on the lives of students with physical, learning, or other disabilities,” said Dr. Nellie Meyer, Superintendent for MDUSD. “This partnership will help us develop a tailored pipeline for teacher candidates who match our needs and have already shown a deep commitment to working in the best interest of our students.”
The program was co-designed by Drs. David Kraft and Peter Alter, co-directors of the Education Specialist program at SMC; Dr. Wendi Aghily, MDUSD Director of Special Education; and Leyla Benson, MDUSD Director of Personnel.
“This partnership will allow us to strengthen the preparation education specialists receive so they can enter the classroom with confidence that they can fully address both academic areas, and other domains, such as communication and social/behavioral issues,” said Dr. Alter.
The initiative includes three components that set it apart from traditional teacher preparation programs.
- All classes are being held at MDUSD facilities to decrease travel time and increase convenience for the candidates.
- By pooling resources, MDUSD and SMC are able to provide an increased amount of ‘in the classroom’ support and coaching. In the first year of the program, a group of district-funded coaches provide ongoing feedback, demonstration lessons, classroom resources, and support with classroom management. In the second year, candidates are moved to an intern credential that deems them to be highly qualified Special Education teachers. During this intern phase, MDUSD and SMC have developed a formal plan of support provided by support personnel by both the District and the college. It is estimated that each candidate will be provided over 100 hours of support over the academic year.
- The program of study has been modified so that courses typically taught in multiple semesters have been condensed to allow multiple courses to be taught within each semester. Additionally, the program has been extended from 18 months to two years. Collectively, the modifications allow teacher candidates to attend classes for two evenings each week, allowing for a home/work/school balance.
In the inaugural year of the program, 12 individuals began the course of study. By this time next year, all candidates will be eligible to become the teacher of record in their classroom. In two years, they will have completed their coursework and will be able to fill the need for education specialists within the District, and begin a new journey on their career path.
“We see some tremendous talent among our Special Education assistants, and with a program such as this which provides reduced tuition and loan forgiveness, it’s an opportunity we hope they can’t turn down,” said MDUSD’s Leyla Benson.
“The role of a Special Education teacher isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding – for both the teacher and the student,” said Dr. Wendi Aghily. “There is no shortage of phenomenal moments. When you help a student achieve something beyond what he or she thought possible, it’s as meaningful personally as it is professionally. We dream big on behalf of all students. And we want our Special Education assistants to dream big too and become a teacher. There is no greater calling, and we will help them get there.”