Education

Today, they drive buses or supervise recess. Next year, they might be teachers.

Video: Tips for new teachers

As school districts engage in a hiring frenzy, veteran Luther Burbank High School English teacher and education blogger Larry Ferlazzo dishes out advice to fledgling teachers.
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As school districts engage in a hiring frenzy, veteran Luther Burbank High School English teacher and education blogger Larry Ferlazzo dishes out advice to fledgling teachers.

Local bus drivers, office workers and yard supervisors have a chance to become classroom teachers under a new state program that Sacramento area school districts and the county office of education will benefit from.

The $20 million program aims to convert 1,000 non-classroom school workers across California as districts face a severe teaching shortage. It has become so difficult to hire that some districts offer subsidized housing or signing bonuses, while others have had to rely on teachers with temporary permits or intern credentials.

The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program is designed for school employees who have completed at least two years of college and need help to finish their education, both undergraduate degrees and teaching credentials. In education circles, classified employees are school staff who do not teach in the classroom or who serve as administrators, counselors or nurses.

“These people know the culture, know the school politics, know the kids and know the teaching situation,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. “They know the flow of working at the school.”

McCarty pursued legislation this year to fund training for classified employees; the $20 million in funding for the new program was ultimately approved as part of the state budget.

All told, 25 county offices of education and school districts will share in the grant program. Locally, they include the Sacramento County Office of Education, as well as Elk Grove, San Juan and Davis Joint unified school districts. The county office intends to train staff from other local districts, including Folsom Cordova, Sacramento City and Twin Rivers unified, according to Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon.

The grant is California’s latest effort to battle a teacher shortage that has developed since the recession. The shortage is due to a shrinking supply of teachers, teacher retirement, teachers moving to other jobs, increased student enrollment, low salaries and high cost of living, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

The shortage has grown as schools have been able to reduce class sizes and restore programs that were eliminated during the economic downturn. That has led to sudden demand for teachers that the college pipeline is struggling to meet.

While the California Teachers Association warns that California’s teacher gap will reach 106,000 in 10 years, the Legislative Analyst’s Office in February said that hiring trends “tend to follow cyclical patterns, with mismatches tending to correct themselves gradually over time.”

Also as part of the budget, Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers provided $10 million to universities to develop programs allowing students to graduate with both a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in four years and $5 million to create the California Center on Teaching Careers to recruit teachers.

McCarty said the program to turn school staff into teachers replaces a similar one started about 20 years ago that lost its funding during the recession. “We re-created it, but expanded it,” he said. “It was for paraprofessionals and now it is for all classified employees.”

Sixty-one school districts sent letters to the state attesting to their need for teachers in hopes of funding the education of 5,582 classified workers. Districts were graded on their need, as well as the level of support they would be able to provide to teacher candidates during their training, according to the state. Grant recipients also must report on the academic progress of the school employees they recruit.

The grants will pay $4,000 annually per participant for up to five years to help them complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching credential. Davis Unified will be able to train 60 staff members, while SCOE will train 40 and Elk Grove Unified, 20.

“I really like it. It helps to diversity the workforce,” McCarty said of the program. “It’s kind of a win-win.”

The Elk Grove district will work with California State University, Sacramento, to help its employees complete their degrees and obtain teaching certificates.

The Sacramento County Office of Education program will take school staff with bachelor’s degrees directly into its teacher internship program, Gordon said. The internship program starts with five months of training, followed by a paid teaching position. Interns will take classes after school for two years to earn teaching credentials.

School employees who need to complete their bachelor’s degrees will take classes at the Sacramento County of Office of Education through Brandman University, Gordon said. Graduates can then enter the SCOE internship program or seek credentials on their own.

State funds will help teacher trainees pay for the 30-month program, which costs $15,000, Gordon said.

“I think it’s tapping a potentially really strong pool of people,” Gordon said. “In our organization in the last six or seven years we have had several people advance from being classified staff, and they have turned out to be very good teachers.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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