Innovative Mt. Diablo Unified Partnership is Transforming Special Education Teacher Pipeline

September 25, 2016 12:30 pm · 14 comments

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.”

TeacherMan September 25, 2016 at 2:45 PM

Brilliant idea. We need more Spec Ed teachers.

Annie September 25, 2016 at 3:53 PM

This will be very good for my Sp. Ed. Assistants. Many have had the passion for teaching, but did not have the financial resources to accomplice it. They already have classroom experience and are not new to helping special needs students. It’s a win-win for students, assistants and Mt. Diablo School District. For anyone wanting be a teacher being an assistant is a good way to start. It will give you valuable experiences in the classroom setting you can’t get any where else. Congratulations to all who took the next step for students and Public Education. Annie CSEA

Jojo Potato September 25, 2016 at 4:47 PM

SMC does so many great things. Good to see it focusing to the east from Moraga for a change. Coincidentally I was at a get together for their international MBA students last night. Very impressive bunch. And nice to see effort close to home too. SMC MBA 1990.

Sid September 25, 2016 at 8:23 PM

What a wonderful program. This is another example of the good things going on in MDUSD under the solid leadership of Dr. Meyer. Good leadership makes all the difference.

Amy September 25, 2016 at 8:26 PM

Too many kids are advanced even if they don’t qualify. Shame the parents who don’t make a stink too.

Curious George September 25, 2016 at 9:17 PM

What is SMC charging the 12 individuals for this program?

Meh September 25, 2016 at 9:26 PM

So I can skip getting a degree now by doing the easier assistant course then this 2 years? Will MDUSD pay for this 2 years as well? I question delivery of education and not the passion of the assistants.

Kathi September 25, 2016 at 9:33 PM

No mention here about what academic background the candidates would need before pursuing this new program. Upon completion would the students have a clear credential recognized by the State of California?

TeacherMan September 25, 2016 at 11:01 PM

@#8. No. but they’ll be on track to complete the initial program. My wife has been going thru an intern program and will complete in 1-2 years (she’s already done 2 1/2.)

Lorrie the Lovely September 26, 2016 at 8:42 AM

I would love to work with special ed. students. (I especiallylove the elementary age kids) I already have B.A, but with two kids getting ready for college, I can’t afford to go back and get my credential. Perhaps one of my kids will major in Special Ed.

Annie September 26, 2016 at 11:18 AM

Some assistants already have AA, BA, and Masters
and they have first hand classroom knowledge with special need students which out weighs any course they will be taking. The classes will reinforce a lot of information they need to know. They have been working with teachers and see how things are done. They are not new to these programs. That is why they are perfect for this opportunity for growth in the educational field.

Annie September 26, 2016 at 11:22 AM

@ Lorrie Maybe you should become an assistant. There are jobs openings. Annie

FlyingSpaghettiMonster September 26, 2016 at 11:45 AM

Not a single word from the parents here. I was in the same county but a neighboring district about 5 or so years ago and my experience was not positive. The administrators seemed only interested in providing the absolute minimum possible services. The cute phrase they used was they are legally required to provide the Chevy of care, but not the Cadillac of care. It gets subjective. The parents had to find a private occupational therapist to teach their kid how to hold a pencil because that was considered the Cadillac of care by the administration. Cute word games. If the parents don’t have the money, tough. Sue us, we don’t care was the attitude. The first IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting was an eye opener. Cause there would be a huge amount of information that needed to be gone over later, parents asked to record it. The staff said no. Its a whole meeting about your kid, and they say you can’t record it. You have to give them something like a month’s notice for that. That’s the tipping point where you realize that the participants are not there to help your kid, it is an adversarial relationship to minimize the district or county’s cost of providing what is legally required.

Leesa September 26, 2016 at 8:24 PM

The assistants have to already have bachelor’s degrees.

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