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Nonprofit offers alternative teaching programs to increase educator retention

New state law allows for a stipend up to $22,000 for teacher trainees
The Public Education and Business Coalition helped provided input for House Bill 22-1220, a law that offers a stipend of up to $22,000 to teachers in training. (Durango Herald file)

A national nonprofit is trying to help with teacher retention in Southwest Colorado by offering alternative teacher licensure programs.

The Public Education and Business Coalition, based in Denver, works in three distinct areas on policy, professional learning and teacher preparation.

The programs allow for teachers to earn a teaching license if they have a bachelor’s degree without needing further college education. They also work with state officials on policy that supports teachers and develops education best practices.

Recently, Colorado passed House Bill 22-1220, which provides up to $22,000 in stipends for participants in alternative teacher licensure programs. Teacher trainees in 32-week residencies are eligible for the $22,000 stipend while trainees in a 16-week program can receive up to $11,000.

The stipends provide a financial cushion for teachers in training, which allows them to spend more time working to earn their license.

“We know there are many people who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching, but up until now couldn’t afford to leave their day jobs and spend a year training,” said Jessamyn Lockhart, senior director of residency at PEBC. “These new stipends make a teaching career possible for more people.”

PEBC offers residency programs that are modeled after medical residencies and focus on teacher preparation. The organization spends a year working with teachers providing supportive, hands-on training and coaching to participants working toward a teaching license. Residents work in a classroom alongside a mentor teacher who provides extensive feedback.

“So we train new teachers, and our program is really specifically designed for folks who might have thought about education early in their lives and didn’t pursue a bachelor’s degree in education,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said there are teachers shortages across school districts in the state and PEBC advocated for HB 22-1220 to be passed as an incentive for teachers in training.

Laura Galido, executive director of human capital at Durango School District 9-R, said Durango schools have struggled to find teachers in specific fields.

“Some of that has to do with the timing of the vacancy, and at times it has to do with the specific position that we are seeking to fill,” Galido said. “As an example, the state of Colorado typically does not produce a lot of teacher candidates in the area of secondary mathematics.”

As with many other areas in labor, the school district has struggled to find employees with specific licensure requirements. The most common examples are teachers in career and technical education.

Galido said the school district works with both Fort Lewis College and PEBC to host teaching trainees during their residencies.

“Both the traditional pathway and the alternative pathway have the capacity to produce amazing teachers and we have had success with both avenues”Galido said. “The individuals that we see who are successful in alternative pathways have typically had a lot of exposure already to teaching individuals in some capacity.”

According to a survey conducted by the Colorado Board of Education, Montezuma-Cortez School District had 11 open teacher positions at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year and had three unfilled positions remaining at the end of the year. Silverton Schools had three open teaching positions last school year and only one of them was filled.

“We continually have schools and districts asking us to help them fill their pipeline, and we are so excited to get folks, local folks, from within the community there in the Southwest Colorado,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart acknowledges that pay is a significant factor in decreased teacher retention, but dealing with issues like COVID-19 and the stress of reworking curriculum for a remote education have played a role as well.

“The same way that we would celebrate our medical professionals, professionals who save lives every day, our teachers deserve that support and praise and recognition,” Lockhart said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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