Ulster BOCES has been awarded a $269,595 grant from the New York State Department of Labor to assist nine teaching assistants who are already working in Ulster County school districts in gaining the education and experience needed to become licensed teachers. Governor Kathy Hochul announced the first round of funding for this inaugural program, which will provide financial support for mentoring, as well as free tuition, books, and technology fees, as well as stipends for living expenses such as child care, if needed. Upon successfully completing the program, the participants will have opportunities to fill vacancies in their district or the county.
The goal of the program is to fill workforce gaps already existing in certain areas of the education system. “For years we have been discussing the looming teacher shortage, and that shortage is now the current reality districts across the country are facing,” explains Kerri Ann Sheehy, a teacher and president of the Ulster BOCES Teachers’ Organization. “Ulster County is not immune to this problem. We know that locally fewer students (for a variety of reasons) are choosing to go into the profession, and as a society we need to consider new ways to inspire young people to consider teaching.”
According to Ulster BOCES Grant Coordinator Rebecca Anderson, “This program is designed to eliminate barriers for candidates pursuing their teaching credentials and–upon completion–provide a position for them. The program will help Ulster County schools, including Ulster BOCES, to fill positions in high-need areas such as math, science, and special education with qualified teachers.”
As part of the program, candidates will gain teaching experience under the supervision of teacher mentors. The mentoring approach is a proven strategy to dramatically increase teacher retention rates and create better experiences for educators early in their careers, often when teaching is the toughest.
“Now, thanks to this wonderful grant, Ulster BOCES can grow from within,” said Jeralyn Perretta, a teacher aide who is president of the Ulster BOCES Teaching Assistants' & Aides' Organization. “Teachers are the core component of our success, and to have one of our amazing teachers mentor the participant is invaluable. Our teaching assistants and aides might not be able to achieve their educational dream of becoming a teacher without help.”
Another goal of the program is to attract under-represented candidates into the teaching profession. “Ideally, the grant will help recruit and retain a more diverse teaching workforce so that students will see themselves reflected in their classrooms,” explains Sheehy.
Ulster BOCES is beginning to plan for the selection process of participants. “Our next steps are to work with our districts and identify where the program is most viable to implement,” said Ulster BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Jonah Schenker. “We have funding for nine seats, and it will be an inclusive process where the districts and Ulster BOCES will come together to look at best practices for supporting the candidates and job placement upon completion of the program. Ulster BOCES will provide the coordination and linkage to SUNY Empire State, who is administering the two-year residency program.”
Schenker describes this as an opportunity to think creatively about other solutions around the workforce gap and how we might respond, not as individual districts, but as a collective county in partnership with higher education. “I believe this program has ‘start up' power and can help tell the story of how Ulster County is a wonderful place to live, teach, and be supported.”
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