Apr 5 2016
Teacher candidate

In Washington's growing Sumner School District, spring is crunch time for Marc Brouillet.

Sumner's assistant superintendent for human resources is looking to hire approximately 80 teachers to fill its openings for the coming school year while the state contends with a teaching shortage that has put many districts in crisis mode.

"We've definitely seen areas of shortage in secondary math and science and more recently in world languages, especially in Spanish," Brouillet said. "Special education through all the levels is a challenge, and we're anticipating an elementary teacher shortage to develop with the state phasing in lower class levels over the next few years."

The South Sound district's story is a frequent refrain across Washington's nearly 300 school districts. In fall 2015, 45 percent of Washington's principals reported they weren't able to fill all of their teaching positions with fully certified teachers.

In response, the University of Washington College of Education is taking steps to expand the number of teacher candidates it prepares, even as state policymakers work on long-term strategies to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

One avenue for expansion is through a state scholarship program focused on expanding opportunities for alternative routes to teacher certification. The UW's teacher pipeline will grow starting next fall with a focus on two areas of critical need: special education teachers and districts like Sumner facing the most severe shortages.

Schools nationwide have been plagued by a special education teacher shortage for years, and in the same fall 2015 survey sponsored by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Association of Washington School Principals, 66 percent of Washington schools reported difficulty finding enough teachers with special education endorsements.

In response, UW will prepare up to an additional 40 special education teachers over the next two years thanks to a grant from the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) and another district-based scholarship program.

Selma Powell, director of UW's special education teacher preparation program, said growing the number of special education teachers will help address one of the state's most critical needs.

"These are both innovative ways to partner with multiple districts to meet their specific needs and ensure that students receive the services they need to reach their potential," Powell said.

The PESB grant will focus on helping instructional assistants become fully certified special education teachers in King County school districts. During each of the next two years, a cohort of up to 15 candidates will receive scholarships to complete UW's special education program.

In a separate scholarship program, up to an additional 10 instructional assistants will be funded next year to earn their special education certification with a focus on emotional behavior disorders through a partnership with a local district.

Meanwhile, another two-year PESB grant is helping the UW Accelerated Certification for Teaching (U-ACT) program partner directly with Sumner School District and Rainier Prep to fill teacher shortfalls by enticing more people into the teaching profession.

Candidates will teach at Sumner and Rainier Prep as they work towards certification at UW, with scholarships helping cover their tuition in return for continuing to teach in their school for at least two years after certification.

"Small districts like Sumner are really feeling the pressure of the teacher shortage and need support," said Megan Kelley-Petersen, U-ACT director.

During the first five years of U-ACT, the program focused on supporting teacher candidates who were Teach for America corps members. In extending U-ACT beyond TFA to meet a greater number of districts' needs, Kelley-Petersen sees these new partnerships as opportunities to bring people into the profession who may not otherwise be able to participate in a preparation program.

"There are people who may have wanted to be teachers but couldn't find a way to take time away from getting a paycheck," she said. "This can be a pathway for career changers. People who might have a family and didn’t think it was possible to take a year off to transition into teaching. People who want to stay in their community and give back."

Over the next two years, grant funding will support 16 new teachers for Sumner and Rainier Prep and lay the foundation for further expansions of UW's teacher preparation programs.

"These next two years we're going to learn a lot about how to partner with districts that aren't located near any teacher preparation programs," Kelley-Petersen said. "Those are areas being hit hardest by the teacher shortage and we need to make sure they have access to highly-qualified teachers."

For Brouillet, partnering with UW is a logical response to the teacher shortage.

"They have experience and systems in place for preparing teachers through their accelerated certification program," Brouillet said. "We have some nice complementary things in place at our district to contribute to UW's program and we're looking forward putting some great teachers in front of our students."

Contact

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu