West Virginia is trying to graduate and retain more teachers by paying for public high school students’ dual-credit courses, pushing them to earn teaching credentials in just three years of college, and while they are still at university this third year, paying them for teaching.
That’s according to Carla Warren, director of educator development and support services for the state Department of Education.
“We give them a head start,” she said.
Students can simultaneously earn high school and college credits in dual credit courses. This state-sponsored “Grow Your Own” program will provide participating high school students with free education-related dual-credit courses, such as “Introduction to Child Development” and “Introduction to Social, Emotional, and behavioral”.
The goal is for participants to earn 30 college credits while still in high school through these and advanced-level courses, which additionally require passing an AP test to earn college credits. Earning 30 credits shaves a year off a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Warren said failing to get 30 still wouldn’t get a teenager out of the program.
She said the department will also pay participants’ $90 fees for the Praxis 1 test they must pass to enter a college or university school of education. Students only need to pass this Praxis entry if they don’t score high enough on the SAT or ACT exams, she said, and public schools already offer the SAT for free.
Participants can then, if they stay on track, attend college for only three years, and that third year will consist of education.
Warren said they’ll likely receive about 65% of a beginning teacher’s salary in that third year of college, though she said the salary amount is still being finalized.
The Department of Education said new public school teachers in West Virginia currently average about $38,100 a year, and state lawmakers and the governor have approved that amount at $40. $300 next school year — if county school systems don’t change their individual pay supplements. So 65% of $40,300 is $26,200.
Also during this third year of college, students would receive benefits and accrue seniority, Warren said. Years of seniority or experience in a county school system makes it easier for employees to obtain jobs in that county and, if positions are eliminated, helps prevent employees from being transferred to new positions or lose their jobs entirely.
These college-age teachers “will have a designated member of county staff” to supervise them, work with behavior management, model lessons and provide other supports, Warren said.
She said the department is looking at ways to possibly fund participants’ tuition in the future.
The program aims for these teachers to return to work in the counties from which they graduated, but it is currently unclear how this loyalty would be enforced.
Warren said 28 county school systems have volunteered to participate in the program, and they decide how students are chosen. Participating counties include Kanawha, Putnam and Cabell.
Warren said a survey of county superintendents shows they anticipate about 250 to 300 students statewide. Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch visited St. Albans, Herbert Hoover and Riverside High Schools in Kanawha on Tuesday, April 12 to promote the program.
In an email, Kanawha Schools spokeswoman Briana Warner said the school district is working with West Virginia State University to offer the dual-credit education courses to high school students. From now on, it is planned to be online courses only.
“We are grateful to have West Virginia State University as our partner,” Warner wrote. “As a large district with many high schools to serve, they have agreed to work with us to provide a flexible program available throughout the county.”
Although she said work is underway to eventually include rising high schoolers, the school system currently plans seven or eight juniors at each of its eight participating high schools in the fall.
“Our high school assistant curriculum directors are now working with counselors to identify up-and-coming juniors interested in this program,” Warner said.
West Virginia Education Association union president Dale Lee praised the program Wednesday, April 13 in comments at the state Board of Education meeting.
“That’s something we’re going to have to do,” Lee said, “especially in counties where it’s harder to find teachers.”
Participating counties, according to the department’s website, are: Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Fayette, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lewis, Logan, Marshall, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mineral, Mingo, Monroe , Nicholas, Ohio, Pocahontas, Putnam, Summers, Taylor, Tyler, Upshur and Wayne.
Warren noted that some counties might have their own Grow Your Own-type programs that don’t fit the department’s structure.