COLORADO SPRINGS — The national teacher shortage, exacerbated by deep losses during the pandemic, has left states scrambling to hire and retain educators. District 11 is no exception. They see a need in most high-demand areas, including early childhood education.
Superintendent Michael Gaal explains, "Our wait lists continue to grow, yet many of our schools are not filled to capacity. We walked our elementary schools and where we saw small sinks and small toilets, we decided we needed small children."
Gaal launched an initiative this year to address the decreasing enrollment in D11 and the glaring need for high-quality preschool education. He says they are on course to open up 8 new pre-k's this year that would serve an additional 250 students.
It begs the question, how will d11 address the staffing shortage? They are doing so by investing in their own through the Future Educators Pathway. The program allows juniors and seniors to fast-track their way to becoming early childhood educators by completing college credits, for free, while in high school.
Fernanda Carrillo is a senior at Mitchell High School and taking part in the program, "I am basically learning how to lesson plan and interact with children and guidance strategy. During my second semester is the fun part where I'm able to go into a classroom and use what I have learned."
Fernanda is getting experience in the classrooms at Monroe Elementary where she spent her younger days. That's where she has goals of becoming an early childhood educator, " I hope to foster the same kindness in these students that my kindergarten teacher did for me. That's a teacher that made a difference."
In addition to the college courses coming at no cost, there's more incentive on the horizon. Gaal explains,"We're hoping to be able to roll out a program next year where we can pay these students the hourly wage that we would pay an actual para educator to be in that classroom," He goes on to say the payoff is well worth it, "Growing our own takes a very long time, but it is always the best solution when you can take the kids from their own community and have them pushing back in to teach the next generation of kids from that same community."
Colorado recently became the first state to enact the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. The idea was first proposed by the U.S. Department of Defense, and is designed, in part, to support military spouses. The bill signed by Governor Polis on March 10 helps teachers by removing barriers to teaching licensure like eliminating the need for reexamination and additional testing after moving between states.
Nine other statehouses are considering joining the compact, including Hawaii, Washington, Kansas, Georgia, and Mississippi. For the compact to take effect, 10 states must approve it.
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