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Looming teacher shortage is ‘critical’ problem: Nichols

SoVaNow.com / November 22, 2017
The fact that Virginia is facing a teacher shortage should come as no surprise to anyone, School Superintendent Paul Nichols said at Monday night’s meeting of the Mecklenburg County School Board.

He described the problem as “critical.”

“A lot of research has been done by the secretary of education and state superintendent with recommendations that seem to be stymied as far as a short term solution,” said Nichols.

The state appears unwilling to relax its credentialing requirements for teachers and is offering no additional money to boost teacher pay.

Region 8, which includes Mecklenburg County, has the most acute shortage by percent of teachers to student ratio, Nichols explained adding that the two greatest areas of need here are for math and science teachers. Northern Virginia is facing a shortage of elementary and special education teachers.

Two regions least impacted by this shortage are 5 and 3, Nichols explained, and that’s because both regions have colleges and universities with teaching programs, where the student teachers are completing their in-service training requirements at elementary and secondary schools there. These regions are “gobbling up” most of the new teachers.

Virginia, and in particular southside Virginia is also facing a critical funding shortage when it comes to pay, “well below the national average in terms of teacher salaries,” he said and there is “not much hope of seeing an increase for teacher pay,” based on current revenue projections.

Nichols said the primary solution offered up by the state is to look at recruiting from within the region’s own ranks by creating a teacher cadet type program. One incentive being suggested is that students receive tuition subsidies or have their college paid for on the condition that they return to the area and teach for a set number of years.

“I’ve already been in touch with Longwood and Averett universities and with Southside Virginia Community College about a teach for tomorrow program,” he said.

Virginia’s teach for tomorrow program is based on a “grow your own” philosophy. The program is offered through each school division to high school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a career in education. It is designed to attract teacher candidates from high school students to the field of education through exposure to a curriculum and hands-on experience that focuses on teaching. Students must complete certain eligibility requirements to be considered for enrollment in the program - have and maintain a minimum 2.7 grade point average or its equivalent, submit three satisfactory teacher recommendations, and a brief essay and application.

The benefits for those in the program include opportunities to satisfy beginning teacher assessment requirements, potential dual enrollment credit, access to scholarships, field trips, classroom observations, and teaching experience before college.

One of the biggest limitations with Virginia’s program, according to Nichols is that Virginia has done nothing to streamline the teacher certification process and still requires all fulltime teaching staff to hold a four-year degree, at a minimum and have or be working toward a professional license.

In other business, Nichols said the Virginia Department of Education has released its new graduation requirements for students. Current eight-grade students will have to fulfill these new requirements. Additionally, starting with the 2018/19 school year, schools will have a new system of accountability.

The new requirements and accountability standards are, according to Nichols, designed to strengthen Virginia’s education system by shifting from testing for testing’s sake. The changes include a more sophisticated system of measuring student progress and a requirement that students be career ready.

At the elementary school level students will be introduced to careers, at the middle school level they will explore career options both in and out of school – instruction, summer camp, mentoring programs. As students enter high school they will begin “career engagement” – job shadowing, internships, on the job training.

Students will be required to document their progress toward career readiness.

Still, through the elementary and middle schools, Nichols said, there will be strong academic foundations. It is only when the students reach high school that they will have their academic subjects tied directly to job expectations and practical applications.

Beginning in the tenth grade, students will have opportunities for training with industrial certification courses, or advanced classes if the career track requires a university degree.

At the same time, there will be soft-skill training where students are taught the tools that will help them succeed in the work force, engage the public and practice appropriate behavior.

Throughout their educational experience, students will be given opportunities to engage with the community.

Jennifer Bowen, the head of 4-H for Mecklenburg County’s Extension office and the head of CTE programs with Mecklenburg County Public Schools and Gary Cifers announced a new program being held in conjunction with Microsoft. It is a digital skills training program for students designed to teach them how best to use technology to improve their community.

Last month she and Cifers flew to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to meet with Microsoft officials as they rolled out the new program. As the project is a joint undertaking between the technology giant and the national 4-H program, Bowen was encouraged to bring with her two 4-H students that might be interested in technology.

Cifers and Bowen are in the planning stages of this new program and promised to roll out more details in the coming week. On Dec. 11, they’re holding a meeting to recruit high school students who may be interest in becoming Microsoft youth community leaders. For more information contact Jennifer Bowen at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). or 434-738-6191 ext. 4371.

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