Before diving in, I have to be up front with you: Yes, this is the third time in less than 10 days I’m writing about Douglas County. (And it has nothing to do with the fact that the first legal documents were filed this week in the appeal of last August’s district court permanent injunction overreach — though I’m getting ready for a Court of Appeals hearing to take place some time this summer.) No, this one may lie even further beneath the radar.
In 2008 my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow published an innovative school district issue paper titled Douglas County’s Home-Grown Teachers: The Learning Center Waiver Program. Since 2007 the district has had the freedom essentially to train its own teachers in key strategic areas:
The waivers enable the Douglas County Learning Center to train three types of teaching candidates:
- Alternative licensure for non-licensed applicants with content expertise in highneeds areas—especially math, science, foreign language, and technical trades
- Teachers-in-Residence (TIR) primarily for licensed applicants with non-special education teaching endorsements to become special education instructors
- Professionals-in-Residence (PIR) for non-licensed professional applicants who “are not interested in seeking licensure” but want to teach a course on a specialized topic
So what’s the news?
Last week the State Board of Education unanimously reauthorized the waiver by placing the vote on the “consent agenda.” The idea is no longer controversial. I call that progress. All you have to do is look at the waiver application and the district’s report to see how it’s been successful and why the program is worthy of continuing.
In five years (Has it been that long? That’s how old I am) the waiver licensure and endorsement program has trained about 75 teachers. The biggest share (about 40 percent) has been made up of educators receiving a special education endorsement, basically eliminating the problem of finding qualified applicants for those hard-to-fill positions. According to the report, Douglas County’s Learning Center has even helped a handful of teachers from other districts get a needed special education license!
More than a dozen of the trainees have been in the area of World Languages, providing district certification for experts in languages such as Mandarin Chinese, for which the state doesn’t issue licenses.
Though it’s still a small part of the overall waiver program, the most interesting piece to me is the PIR program for non-licensed professionals to fill gaps and provide specialized courses. The application notes:
Castle View High School utilizes professionals from local firms such as Lockheed Martin
to teach specialized pre-engineering classes for one to two periods in the day. This PIR Waiver
exempts local professionals from the financial burden and 225 instructional hours required for the
alternative licensure program. This waiver continues to allow DCSD to secure qualified professionals
to offer relevant curriculum content tailored to the needs of 21st century learner.
Hopefully, more opportunities for that kind of approach can spread. It represented part of the tiny Kit Carson School District’s approved plan to become the state’s first official district of innovation. So far, it has enabled the district to use the non-licensed computer tech expert to teach four computer classes. The door is open for future opportunities, too.
“Dougco, Dougco, Dougco!”?
I bet you’re glad, given all my recent attention on Douglas County, that the last paragraph mentioned another district. Some of you must feel like that girl from the old TV show “The Brady Bunch.” But hey, don’t complain at me! Get your school board and district to set the bar high by making some bold reform moves, and I’ll give them some attention, too.