District working to reduce emergency teachers

28

The Maricopa Unified School District experienced a four-year period of tremendous growth, nearly tripling the number of schools in the district and adding students at a break-neck pace.

Through this hyper-growth period, the district struggled to find highly qualified and certified teachers, so often the district had to turn to what is called an emergency teacher.

Now that the growth has slowed to a manageable pace, the district is eliminating the teachers on emergency certificates through hiring practices and partnerships with local higher education institutions.

One such partnership is with Rio Salado College, which offers a two-year program that takes an emergency certified teacher, reclassifies them to an intern teacher and gives them the training they need to be classified as highly qualified.

An emergency certification requires a person to receive special permission from the Arizona Department of Education to teach. The typical requirement to receive an emergency certificate from the department is a bachelor’s degree and a fingerprint clearance card.

“We use these types of teachers when we can’t find a candidate to fill a position,” said Heidi Fawcett, human resources director for the Maricopa school district.

To earn a highly qualified certificate, a person must pass the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment test, complete the required number of educational credits and show proficiency in the area they teach.

The Rio Salado program takes emergency teachers to the highly qualified level by having participants commit to teaching for two years in the district while they take online educational courses.

“This way the teacher gets the hands on experience, while fulfilling the educational requirements,” Fawcett said.

The district does not pay for the courses, and those enrolled in the program have no commitment to the district once they become highly qualified.

“I wish we could find a way for the teachers in this program to stay in the district,” said school board member Tim White.

The district is in their second year of offering the program and has nearly 10 people enrolled under intern certificates.

Last year the district had 56 teachers on emergency certificates, this year the district has 26.

“Our dream is to ultimately have zero teachers on these certificates, but a more realistic goal is to cut the number of teachers on emergency certificates in half each year,” Fawcett said. “This program is helping us to reach that goal.”

File photo