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Posted October 23, 2020

Actions to address teacher shortages exacerbated by COVID-19  

Author: Matt Finster

 

Several West Virginia schools have had to close due to shortages in teachers and substitutes stemming from coronavirus outbreaks. Across the region and nation there are similar stories regarding teacher shortages (see, for example, Tennessee,  Wisconsin, Houston, and Connecticut). To address teacher and substitute shortages, states and/or districts have taken immediate action, including:  

 

 

States could also consider mitigating current teacher shortages by loosening or wavering requirements for renewing teacher licenses and/or license reciprocity. Given the high rates of state unemployment compared to the previous year, such actions may provide a welcomed opportunity for previous educators to rejoin the teacher workforce. Any of these steps combined with a targeted marketing campaign to reach applicable individuals may be a way to boost the teacher and substitute applicant pool to address shortages.  Additionally, districts and states need to track real-time teacher supply and demand metrics to adjust quickly to rapidly changing conditions. RC5 staff could support SEAs in assessing and addressing these needs.  

 

Posted October 12, 2020

‘Bright Spots’ in Four Key Areas Across Our Region

 

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center (CC) Advisory Board held its September 2020 meeting virtually to safely and conveniently include Edward James, the U.S. Department of Education’s Region 5 CC program officer, local school district superintendents, regional education service agency leaders, state agency leaders, education researchers, and nonprofit partners. The group readily offered insights on the challenges facing schools and states during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

While the virus has disrupted education across the nation, stakeholders from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia focused their attention on “bright spots” showing resilience in the following four key areas:

 

1. COVID-19 Impacts on Education

When schools closed suddenly in March to protect children's and adults' health and safety, schools became innovative and increased collaboration out of necessity. Remote learning was an unexpected challenge but also an opportunity. Dr. Jeff Hawkins, Executive Director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), said his service agency and the small remote school districts it supports concentrated their efforts to advance teacher professional learning in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. 

 

For several years, Kentucky's unique statewide Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program has provided a way for teaching and learning to continue on days when districts would usually cancel classes due to inclement weather. KVEC went a step further utilizing technology to overcome distance and bring new educational opportunities to teachers and students. Dr. Hawkins described micro-credentials developed by KVEC in collaboration with local teachers and school leaders with state support to provide personalized professional learning for more educators in their region.  

 

The pandemic also showed how much communities value their schools and students. Dr. Keith Perrigan, Superintendent of Bristol Public Schools, in rural southwest Virginia, shared examples of how businesses supported educators and students, particularly seniors when the 2019-2020 school year was interrupted by COVID-19. With social distancing mandates disrupting graduation plans, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee became an exciting alternate location for Virginia high school commencement ceremonies. "Seniors collected their diplomas and got to follow the pace car for a lap on The World's Fastest Half-Mile."

 

2. Educational Equity

Several board members cited the lack of home internet access in some communities as a long-standing inequity impacting instruction and exacerbating student achievement gaps. The pandemic brought into more explicit focus the Internet connectivity challenges hampering students and teachers working at home. According to Dr. John B. Gordon, Superintendent of Suffolk County (VA) Public Schools, and several other board members, the shift to more distance education exposed broadband infrastructure issues as necessities for learning. Board members described the critical need for high-speed Internet to connect children and adults in all communities to education and training, in addition to services to support their emotional and mental health. 

 

Dr. Carla Warren, Executive Director of the Office of Educator Development and Support within the West Virginia Department of Education, said bringing inequities to light is causing action rather than long-term planning. Schools and partners have taken action to increase connectivity in rural and urban communities by installing outdoor Wi-Fi Internet access points and outfitting school buses to be mobile hotspots parked in disconnect communities. Like many school districts, Dr. Gary Houchens, Professor of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research, said Western Kentucky University recently installed Wi-Fi hotspots in two of WKU’s largest parking lots to increase public access to the Internet. 

 

3. The Educator Workforce

Human capital issues were weighing on school leaders’ minds, too. Dr. Hawkins described the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers in remote rural schools. All four states have reported educator shortages. 

 

Dr. Kevin Schaaf, TDOE Director of Research and Analysis, highlighted a need to increase educator diversity while expanding the teacher pipeline. He described efforts to develop and fund “Grow Your Own” programs in Tennessee to train paraprofessionals and high school students to become certified teachers, increase the educator talent pool and connect the teacher workforce to the students and communities they serve. Dr. Schaaf also pointed out that recent crises have emphasized the need to increase educator diversify to reflect the student body. He said Tennessee has several research initiatives to examine educator diversity, find “bright spots,” and identify where districts have effectively recruited and retained teachers of color. He’s excited about Tennessee’s efforts to push that work forward more aggressively and more broadly. 

 

Tennessee recently announced a “Grow Your Own” competitive grant, which made available 20 grants of $100,000 each to form or expand state-recognized grow-your-own partnerships to increase access and remove barriers to the teaching profession. 

 

4. The 2020-2021 Academic Year  

Board members agreed that the 2020-2021 academic year would be like no previous school year as schools expect interruptions to learning. They also have been working to overcome last year's lost instructional time. Dr. Michelle Goad, an Instructional Supervisor in Gibson County Special School District (TN), said she was encouraged by seeing school reopening plans in place. Students and administrators have been adapting, using policies, and implementing procedures to ensure safe learning environments. Teachers have risen to the challenge, she said, collaborating and building content for digital learners. 

 

Tricia Bronger, Director of the Greater Louisville Education Cooperative, shared how districts have communicated with their communities to "spotlight" support and assistance provided to special education teachers and school staff. 

 

With many school districts going all-virtual to start the new school year, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) used its federal CARES Act funds to expand its online learning system, "Virtual Virginia." Virginia also joined the open education resources movement. VDOE launched #GoOpenVA, a collaborative initiative that enables educational entities throughout Virginia to create, share, and access openly-licensed free digital learning materials designed for Virginia educators, used by Virginia educators, and expanded through collaboration among Virginia educators.

 

Dr. Jennifer Piver-Renna, VDOE Director of Research, concluded, "Our educators have stepped up. It's a bright spot to see people come to the table and look for solutions."

 

Jennifer Aprea of Tennessee ARC agreed, saying she has observed an increase in family engagement, including in special education. Weekly Facebook Live sessions have helped keep families connected to support services. Ms. Aprea said many families preferred the virtual IEP meetings, and she would like to continue giving parents options after the pandemic.

 

Learn more about the Region 5 Comprehensive Center and its support for states, regional, and local education agencies across the region by logging on to https://region5compcenter.org   

 

NEWS AND ANNOUCEMENTS

 

Posted October 23, 2020

KENTUCKY

Public Comment Sought on Proposed Alternate Assessment Waiver

(FRANKFORT, KY) – The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is seeking public comment on its request to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to extend its waiver on the number of students tested using alternate assessments due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The assessments are aligned with alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AAAS) on the annual statewide Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) test.

Public comment will be taken Oct. 20, 2020, through Nov. 3, 2020.

 

FCPS Teacher Named Kentucky Teacher of the Year

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Being an educator is often a thankless job, but Thursday served as an exception to that rule as the Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award was presented.

2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years in history for our country, our state, and, of course, our educators. But as always, they rose to the occasion.

24 Teacher Achievement Award winners were recognized Thursday. From that group, a panel chose three state winners as well.

 

Education Officials Wrestle With Shrinking Budget

FRANKFORT (KT) — Kentucky Department of Education officials appeared before a legislative committee on Wednesday to discuss how they plan to deal with a request by the state budget director’s office to reduce their budget by 8% during the current fiscal year.

Education Commissioner Jason Glass told the General Assembly’s Budget Review Subcommittee on Education reductions during a current budget year are more difficult.

 

TENNESSEE

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Tours Hamilton Co. Schools 

HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. — Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn toured Woodmore Elementary and Wallace A. Smith Elementary on Thursday.

After touring the schools, she answered our questions about the state of education in the state of Tennessee.

We streamed the Q&A live on our Facebook page. Watch the livestream below:

 

UT-Knoxville Alumna Named Tennessee Teacher of the Year

The hour before the announcement felt like one of the longest in Kami Lunsford’s life. A 2006 University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumna, she sat beside her husband, surrounded by blue, white, and gold balloons in the library of Karns Middle School. A livestream from the Tennessee Department of Education played on a laptop computer as Lunsford and eight other finalists logging in from around the state waited.

The speaker on screen quoted from an essay Lunsford, a 14-year music teacher at KMS, had submitted, and the video cut to Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn in the hallway outside the library doors. Lunsford shook her head. It couldn’t be. In an instant, Schwinn was through the door naming Lunsford the 2020–21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

 

Gov. Lee, Education Commissioner Say Teachers Not Accountable for Student Testing Results

Governor Bill Lee announced on October 16 that Tennessee schools and teachers will not be held accountable for the results of student testing this year due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Although failing scores will not count against school districts or teachers, the assessments are moving forward and Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn said the results still matter.

 

VIRGINIA

Fall School Plans for DC, Maryland, Virginia Systems During Coronavirus

Public school systems throughout the D.C. region are grappling with how to handle the new school year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Below are the plans for school systems by state and county in the WTOP listening area.

 

#GoOpenVA Offers COVID-19 Extended Closing Instructional Resources

Resources provided by Virginia school divisions to support educational activities when schools have extended periods when they are closed.  

 

Rural Prosperity Summit: Broadband Is Key For Education, Jobs, Healthcare

Broadband’s role in rural prosperity was the focus of the 7th Annual Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity, held virtually Wednesday.
The summit was presented by the Virginia Rural Center, a partnership of the Center for Rural Virginia and the Council for Rural Virginia. The two organizations work together on a joint mission of economic prosperity for rural Virginia communities.
Gov. Ralph Northam in his keynote address said among his priorities is for all Virginians, including rural Virginians, “to have access to a good job and the skills to get it.”

 

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia’s Simulated Workplace Receives National Recognition

CHARLESTON, W.VA. – The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Simulated Workplace program is one of 16 innovations to receive national recognition for pushing the boundaries of exceptionality and effective learning models. The program, housed within the Department’s career technical education (CTE) office, is a proven model that merges entrepreneurship and skilled career pathways within the k-12 public education footprint.

 

WLU Student-Teachers Preparing in Case They're Needed in Local Schools

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — With some counties facing teacher and substitute shortages, the state of West Virginia offered an option to allow certain college student teachers to become paid substitute teachers.

Education students at West Liberty University are preparing to student teach at schools throughout the Northern Panhandle.

 

No Access: Remote Learning Widens US Digital Divide for Students

In the rural school district where Nicole McCormick teaches music in West Virginia, learning is remote in more ways than one this year.

Situated amid dense forests near the Appalachian Mountains, Fayette County is a place where more than 20 percent of households do not have a computer, and nearly 30 percent lack broadband internet access, according to United States Census Bureau data.

Even those households that are online may lack the bandwidth to stream an online class. And that poses challenges for students relying on a mixture of online and in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.