New Charter Teacher Certification Empowers Local Educators
Part of Bluum’s commitment to Idaho’s families is taking risks to develop new approaches, so all Idaho students have access to a great education. During this year’s legislative session, our lawmakers approved one such approach – Idaho’s new Charter School Teacher Certification (full bill text here) will empower Idaho charter schools to grow, mentor, and now certify their own teachers. This is particularly important, because the Gem state’s rapidly growing population will need more schools, and thus more teachers than ever.
Typically, charter school teachers have obtained certifications through traditional educator preparation programs, or one of a handful of alternative certification options. However, the alternative routes previously available require substantial monetary and time investments from individuals who have already completed their post-secondary education. This new certification option, available only to public charter schools, allows these schools to provide hands-on training and mentorship in the art and science of educating students.
Four Idaho charter school leaders discussed this newly-created option as part of a panel, “Creating the Workforce We Need for Success in the Post Pandemic World.” The panel was part of Boise State University’s Educator Workforce & Partnership Summit, moderated by Bluum’s CEO, Terry Ryan.
Kelly Trudeau, Administrator of Compass Public Charter School, shared that there is “absolutely” merit in seeking out and hiring teachers who are certified and have come from traditional training programs through higher education.
“We’ve had some really good luck with traditionally-certified teachers. [We] always first seek teachers who are certified, and when we advertise for positions, that will be our first choice,” said Trudeau.
But amid the current national teacher shortage, the applicant pool for charter schools tends to be smaller due to their unique educational approaches. Compass currently has 10 teachers who have gone through the existing alternative certification route. But Trudeau says these teachers credit the mentoring and training they received through Compass for helping them become the “excellent teachers they are today.”
Keith Donahue, who served as Executive Director for Sage and Forge International Schools, also shared that traditionally-certified teachers are the first choice, but because of their International Baccalaureate (IB) model, there are fewer traditionally-certified educators whose professional experience aligns with the school’s mission.
For example, IB Schools offer a language in every grade. Sage focuses on French. In a school that serves around 1,000 K-12 students, that translates to seven full-time French teachers.
Donahue elaborated, “So I’m trying to staff seven French teachers that have their Idaho certification, and want to come work in Idaho, and make $20,000 less than working in another state, and take 60 credit hours when they get here. That’s a tough task, especially if they’ve got seven other offers.”
“If I can find them, that is always going to be the first choice,” he continued. “But with this flexibility, if the best person doesn’t have that certification but all the right career or life experience, we can bring them in, give them the mentoring and professional development they need, which are both required by the law and dictated by what we think is the best thing for our students.”
Michelle Ball, founder and Executive Director of Alturas International and Alturas Preparatory Academies, in Idaho Falls, says this flexibility benefits her school models, which are multi-age classrooms, and students are taught at their “instructional level” instead of their “grade level.”
This very individualized and collaborative approach to learning requires teachers with a certain mindset, says Ball.
“We have gone the alternative route as well because we’re a totally different approach to education, and we need people to come into our model with an open mind and a growth mindset. One of our teachers had a Biology degree, and took the ABCTE route, and she would tell you she just jumped through hoops. What enabled her to become a distinguished teacher was the strong mentoring that she received at Alturas, because we have an incredible mentoring program.”
For Monica White, Co-Founder and Administrator of Elevate Academy, the new certification route could allow her to recruit industry experts in career-technical fields. For her 6-12th grade CTE-focused school, this has been particularly challenging.
“You can’t really find teacher prep programs for aeronautics. You can’t find teacher prep programs for machining and manufacturing – it’s a struggle. There is a lot of wisdom in this world that goes untapped, that we have not had access to and been able to get to because of the hoops through certification with our CTE.”
But in true charter school fashion, flexibility is balanced with accountability. Charter school leaders who choose to certify their own educators are responsible for ensuring educator efficacy. The four charter school leaders agreed that certifying their own teachers is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
Monica White said it well. “There’s a ton of responsibility on the administrators and the leaders of the schools that choose to self-certify an employee. When evaluating our teachers, I always ask myself, “Would I put my own personal kid in that room?”
“It’s not a workaround,” continued White.
This additional certification option will be helpful in addressing the needs of Idaho’s growing K-12 population, and Donahue has done the math.
“If the Idaho charter sector handles 15% of the additional schools need over the next 10 years, that’s 500 teachers just in the charter area that we need. So, I think we all need to be a little bit creative in our thinking here to fill this need.”
Alturas International Academy, Sage International School, Alturas Preparatory Academy, Compass Public Charter School, Forge International School, and Elevate Academy, are Bluum partner schools and have received grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. The latter four schools have received funding from Idaho’s Communities of Excellence federal Charter Schools Program grant.