School workers interested in transitioning to the classroom may seek financial assistance for getting their teaching credential under a new San Mateo County grant program.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing launched a $20 million funding initiative in September that’s designed to help 1,000 classified school workers throughout the state become certified educators.
The San Mateo County Office of Education recently received $200,000 of that money to be divided across 50 grants to help pay for a credential through San Francisco State University, with additional funds available in coming years.
Joe Ross, San Mateo County Board of Education president, said he is hopeful the initiative will partially relieve the local teaching crunch by luring classified workers such as instructional assistants, secretaries, food service workers and bus drivers to the classroom.
“This program is a really creative way to solve the problem by using the resources at hand,” he said.
Sue Wieser, the county’s associate superintendent of Human Resources, echoed a similar sentiment in an email.
“This funding from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is invaluable as we work to address the teacher shortage in San Mateo County,” she said. “Our credential program … will graduate new teachers to fill vacancies in high-need areas, including special education.”
Ross said his optimism is fueled through studies indicating those who already work on school campuses and regularly interact with students have high success rates once they become teachers.
“Part of what is exciting to me about this grant program is there is research showing that paraprofessionals and other school staff are more effective because of their experience in the environment and knowing what it is like in the classroom,” he said.
Those who enter the credential program offered through the grant will be trained at their home campus, which Ross said will better allow prospective teachers to hone their skills on their home turf.
“The best way to prepare a teacher is to do it in a job-embedded environment, rather than shipping them off to an ivory tower,” he said.
Ross said there has been substantial local enthusiasm for the grant since it was announced, as more than 150 people have submitted applications. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Jan. 31.
His hope is it will combat the local teaching shortage by enticing those who are already working in the local education industry to move up in their career.
“We don’t have to convince these 50 people to move here. They’ve already made that decision, so now they can become teachers and we’ve gone some of the way toward addressing the problem,” he said.
The problem Ross refers to is the struggle school districts up and down the Peninsula have had in attracting and retaining teachers, due primarily to the escalating cost of living locally.
Even though many of the San Mateo County school systems offer higher salaries than the rest of the state, Ross noted local districts are unable to keep rates competitive with pay available in the private sector, and particularly the booming tech industry.
As a result, educators are often forced to commute to the Peninsula from far reaching corners of the Bay Area, resulting in a high attrition and turnover rates.
“A lot of districts offer a higher pay scale, but they cannot keep pace with the cost of housing and the cost of living,” said Ross. “So a lot of districts are wrestling with this because if you can’t afford to live here, you can’t consider a job.”
Though the struggle is severe in San Mateo County, it is not unique. School districts throughout California are scrambling to find teachers and the California Teachers Association has estimated 100,000 new teachers will be needed over the next decade.
Much of the general need for teachers is fed through a previous generation of educators beginning to retire, with the numbers to expected to increase in coming years. With fewer college students enrolling in credential programs, the two trends stand to present an even more challenging hurdle for state schools to clear in coming years.
Some of those longtime educators previously benefitted from a former federal effort designed to train aspiring teachers known as the Teacher Corps, said Ross, who noted the parallels between the past initiative offered under President Lyndon Johnson and the current county grant program.
Locally, school districts have pursued innovative methods of combatting the shortage by working to lessen the affordability burden on their staff through considering building workforce housing.
The San Mateo County Community College District has successfully erected developments on two campuses and work is underway to build a third. District officials have said the developments are a useful recruiting tool, and have shared their expertise with colleagues in the San Mateo Union High, South San Francisco Unified and San Mateo-Foster City Elementary school districts who are considering similar initiatives.
In the context of the variety of ongoing efforts, Ross said he believed the grant program could be one useful step toward fighting against the struggle to find quality local teachers.
“I think it is really exciting to do this,” he said.
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