District battles national teacher shortage by helping certify those on staff

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, February 27, 2019

RESERVE — Eighteen teachers who are earning their certification this school year were recently recognized by the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board.

The teachers are the first to earn their certification through one of several programs the school district put in place to address the national shortage of certified teachers.

“What we’ve done as a district is look inside our classrooms and realize that we already have people who want to be teachers and who are invested in our schools and our students and we’ve taken steps to help those people become certified,” Superintendent Kevin George said.

George said fewer people are graduating in education and that means school districts must become creative in their approach to getting qualified teachers in the classroom.

“St. John has begun several initiatives to take a strategic approach to the national teacher shortage,” Human Resources Director Serina Duke said. “In doing so, we’ve worked to create a workforce and reduce the number of uncertified teachers in our classrooms.”

St. John has partnered with LRCC and iTeach to pay for teachers who qualify for the program to become certified. In return, the educators must agree to remain as a teacher in the district for three years.

Teachers meet each Wednesday to study for and get help with preparing for the Praxis test.

Among those becoming certified through the program is Brandy Nora, who started as a substitute teacher while attending nursing school but found a new path in education.

“I became a paraeducator. However, I wanted more of this career. My passion, my love was not being met like it was when I was as substitute teacher,” Nora said. “After getting together the required documents and passing the necessary tests I became certified as a business teacher and it was worth every minute. I love my students. I love making a difference and I love teaching, period. This is my vocation.”

Duke said Nora is a shining example of the type of educator the program is designed to help and retain in the district.

“Those are the people we want in our classrooms. She cared. She kept great records. She held the students accountable. She did a great job even though she didn’t hold those credentials at that moment,” Duke said. “So when the opportunity permitted and when we have those vacancies those are the people that we want to empower to touch the lives of our students because their hearts are in the right place and they’re doing the things that matter the most for our students.”

In addition to Nora, Elizabeth Agerton, Darryl Becnel, Vincent Bello, Patricia Brown, Jessica Bogle, Kelsey Franklin, Halle Gayten, Nicole Johnson, Nathan Joseph, Tai Nicholas, Marchel Rapp, Jeremy Stroud, Derron Thomas, Quantrell Toval, Hope Tregre, Nicole Williams and Cory Batiste were the first teachers to complete the district’s certification program.

The district has also put in place a Praxis support group to help teachers with another significant hurdle toward certification. The group meets each Wednesday to provide teachers preparing for the test with guidance and support.

Other measures put in place to attract and retain certified teachers are a Recruit a Teacher program that provides a stipend for employees who refer certified teachers who remain in the district for a specified time and bonuses for certified teachers who agree to teach at the district’s lowest-performing school.

The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board has also made this a priority and during its retreat just last month made the goal of recruiting, training and maintaining a pool of certified, highly qualified staff one of its five Strategic Planning Goals with a target of having a number of certified teachers that is equal to or greater than the state average.