Plan proposed for sub shortage

The Juneau School District is reporting the highest rates of substitute shortages since 2012, a problem often resolved by teachers who double down and take on extra students or classes. A dean from the University of Alaska Southeast is proposing a new solution — train high school students for the role.

A high school diploma is still required to work as a substitute, so roles wouldn’t change quite that quickly. Instead, what dean Deborah Lo from the UAS School of Education put forward at a recent joint UAS and Juneau School District meeting was to launch Educators Rising, essentially a teaching degree that starts in high school.

“It all came together for me as we were talking,” Lo said of a meeting she had with JSD Human Resources Manager Ted Van Bronkhorst. “My students have a need to earn money and they need substitutes.”

The proposed program, Educators Rising, is a new approach to the older program Future Educators of Alaska. FTA operated like a club in Alaska schools, Juneau included, for students interested in learning about the teaching profession. The program faded out a couple years ago and now on the national scene is a rebooted version that would include dual credit opportunities.

“At the national level, Educators Rising supports the implementation of co-curricular high school programs in which students explore the teaching profession and gain authentic, hands-on teaching experience,” according to the Educator Rising organization website.

Lo said the program would give Juneau high school students access to a college-level course as juniors or seniors, education 122, an introduction to education. Students would also complete other math and English requirements as part of the Educators Rising program, but if successful they could enter college with three elective college credits for $75, a $549 value for enrolled college students — assuming they enrolled at UAS, which Lo said she hopes would be the natural path.

“We (at UAS) graduate more teachers for Alaska than our sister institutions in either Anchorage or Fairbanks, which is remarkable given that we have the smallest faculty,” Lo said. “I’d like us to start an Educators Rising in Juneau and start with your seniors and really get them interested in education.”

The payoff wouldn’t come for JSD until a little later, although technically a high school graduate could apply to substitute day one after receiving a diploma.

In the Educators Rising program, as proposed by Lo, students would enroll at UAS with their EDUC122 credit, go through substitute “boot camp” where they learn how to read lesson plans and handle large groups of students, then the university would recommend ready students for substitute positions.

“After they substitute taught, hopefully they decided they want to be teachers,” Lo said. “I think it could work. Our students need to earn money, they need jobs, and I’d much rather have them in a school district gaining some experience than waiting tables. It’s better for them, it’s probably better for you (the district) and it’s better for us.”

Typically, education majors aren’t introduced to the classroom setting until their sophomore year and it’s a limited experience at that. Subbing early on would give students a true beginning-to-end school day experience, Lo said.

When Lo suggested the program at a Nov. 16 meeting, it was the first time members from JSD heard anything about it, but JSD Superintendent Mark Miller exhibited some enthusiasm for the program, even suggesting a higher starter rate for substitutes who were graduates of the program as a possible incentive.

Currently a substitute is paid $10.67 to $16.67 an hour, depending on their level of experience and time on the job. Raising that starting rate is something Van Bronkhorst has mentioned in the past as a way of attracting more substitutes. Director of Administrative Services David Means said that rate hasn’t moved since 2008.

Lo said looking forward the next step is for district officials to examine their desire and budget for Educator Rising. If the program moved forward, an added teaching role would be required for the education courses.

On Lo’s side, if the district does decide to move forward she will designate faculty members to design modules for the teacher to utilize during the course, with additional guest lecture support.

School board member Lisa Worl spoke in favor of the two institutions working together toward a common goal. She also suggested looking to UAS for further professional development.

“That’s seems like another natural place, in terms of saving dollars, if we’re already here,” Worl said. “We’re picking up teachers and we need to continue training them. It would be nice to be able to do that here (at UAS).”

Van Bronkhorst said the possibility of extending substitute “boot camp” services to support other substitutes, including those taking on paraeducator roles, is something to consider as well as the district faces substitute fill-rates that have fallen as low as 62 percent this year.

“We haven’t done very well in the past in terms of our prep for subs as they go into classrooms,” Van Bronkhorst said.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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