Year for Local Teachers No Help
Wiggins and Weldon Valley schools will have an extra year to let teachers prepare to meet new federal standards which say they must be "highly qualified."
The U.S. Education Department announced more than 2,000 rural school districts in the West, including 96 of the 178 districts in Colorado, have the extra time to meet requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" Act which requires each teacher of core subjects such as math, language arts, social studies and science to be "highly qualified" -- a broad criteria interpreted by each state. In Colorado, it means a science teacher, for instance, would have to be either certified in the subject, pass a placement test or complete 24 semester hours of college in science to meet the standard.
In Morgan County it makes little difference. Wiggins' teachers already meet the federal requirements, and Weldon Valley will likely be unable to meet the new requirements regardless of how long teachers have.
The criteria for the list of schools having the extra time is that they must be rural and have 600 students or less in kindergarten through 12th grade. There is an additional criteria of less than 10 people per square mile in the district, said Colorado Department of Education spokesman Bush White Friday.
That means Fort Morgan and Brush districts will still have to find ways to have teachers meet the federal standard -- without the extra year.
Education Department officials relaxed the time limit after complaints that teachers in small, rural districts shoulder the load of more than one subject, making it harder to become qualified in each subject.
At Weldon Valley Superintendent John Gotto's school, he has one instructor who teaches a health class, a science class and four physical education classes. Others also have mixed duties in a school which cannot afford to have a single teacher for every subject.
"It's not going to help a great deal," he said. "We know we are going to be black-marked, because realistically we can't do it." The question becomes does the school hire a one-period teacher, and who would take such a job?
Weldon Valley's teachers are, in fact, already 89 to 92 percent certified in their subjects. It's just that little extra bit when a teacher has to take on more than one subject which prevents meeting the unfunded federal mandate, he said.
Going back to school to finish another 24 credits to tack on an additional certification is expensive. That is one reason why it would have been a boon to Brush teachers in the situation to have another year to spread out the expense and time involved, said Brush Superintendent Bret Miles before he knew his district is excluded from the additional year.
Miles was encouraged that Washington, D.C., is at least starting to look at the reality of how the legislation affects schools. These timelines and mandates came pretty fast, and it is nice people are being heard, especially hard-hit rural districts, he said.
Fort Morgan Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Greg Wagers said his district was expecting to meet the new criteria by the original deadline. "It would be good news, but we weren't planning on it."
For the Fort Morgan district, the biggest difficulty has been at the middle school. Part of what makes it so difficult for the teachers at Fort Morgan Middle School is that many staff spent years teaching when sixth through eighth graders were together; that meant an elementary teaching certification, and core subjects were not split out at that level.
Of the 31 teachers at FMMS, 11 do not yet meet the federal mandate and two are pending. For the most part they have been about to comply anyway.
In the end no one is hitting the panic button, Miles said. Teachers were hired for Brush schools because they were thought to be the best for the kids. Teachers will not be dropped because of an arbitrary deadline.
If they do not meet the deadline, districts must notify parents they are not in compliance, and that is what Brush will do if necessary until teachers can qualify, he said.
However, White said, "It's not like anything horrid is going to happen. We know we can't get blood out of turnip.
"We'll be reasonable about it. We want to make it work for them. All we're asking for is a good faith effort," he said.
What the state will look for is reasonable progress over reasonable time, White added.
The Fort Morgan Times
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