The Orangeburg County School District is working to address its teacher shortage with an in-house program designed to help district employees become teachers.
The program, GROW Orangeburg, will provide the district's classified personnel with a degree and an opportunity to become certified employees.
Classified employees consist of school employees that do not need certification or licensure to be qualified for the job. Certified employees must have a certificate that proves they have obtained the necessary credentials and knowledge for the position.
"I love the idea that we are trying to be proactive," trustee Betty Pelzer said during the school board's regular monthly meeting Tuesday.
Pelzer said reading about teacher shortages across the country makes her “really sad.”
“It is happening. What can we do about it?” she said.
“We are going to have to come up with some way to grow our own,” she said. “We have to treat them and stroke them a lot to keep them. We have to treat them right.”
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“We have to do the right thing by our employees so we can keep them right here in Orangeburg,” Pelzer said.
District Director of Classified Personnel Loretta Gadson-Washington said the district surveyed 236 classified employees with college degrees. About 112 responded to the survey.
Out of the 112, Gadson-Washington said 24 had an associate's degree, 61 a bachelor’s, 26 a master’s and one a doctorate.
Of the 112, 97 said they were interested in the program and, of those, 60 have signed an agreement to become certified personnel for the district.
The district will seek to get certified personnel in its PACE (Partnership for Accessing College Education), Teachers for Tomorrow and CATE (Career and Technical Education) programs.
Gadson-Washington said the district does have the needed individuals in place to assist the district with the program.
The 60 individuals will be divided into four cohorts as part of the process to obtain certification. Some need to pass the Praxis exam, others have to do teaching and pass the Praxis exam, while others need to also take alternative certification to receive direct CATE certification, Gadson-Washington said.
The funding for the program will be paid upfront by employees for the Praxis exam and application fee for any alternative certification program. The district will reimburse the employees out of federal Every Student Succeeds Act funds.
The Praxis exam costs between $130 and $209, depending on the subject area.
Seminars will also be held for employees to help them with the Praxis exam. The district will also provide employees with resources available from the state as part of the process.
Under the program, teachers have agreed to work in the school district for three years.
Trustee Mary Ulmer said the effort has been tried before and says she is happy that teachers will be encouraged by the district to stay the course.
“Please continue to encourage and push them and let's get these teachers,” Ulmer said.
Board Vice Chair Dr. Debora Brunson said she is pleased with the program.
“I am glad we are able to provide this assistance for our staff members,” she said.
Brunson said she has talked to a lot of staff members who have just missed passing the Praxis exam by one or two points.
“That can be very disheartening. That is a stumbling block in somebody's path but these people are excellent workers. They do an excellent job of teaching and management in the classroom,” she said.
Trustee Idella Carson said she believes the state needs to change its ways of preparing teachers.
“Our teachers have to take the Praxis first before they go into the area,” Carson said. “You go to school to become a lawyer. You take all your classes first, then you take the bar exam. You don't take the bar exam before you take the classes.”
OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster echoed Carson's concerns.
“It needs to be changed, especially given the shortages we had,” Foster said. “There are individuals who are being held up and children that are being disserviced because of a test that says you are certified but does not necessarily say you are qualified.
“I think quality is what we look for as opposed to just a simple certification.”