High-need school districts helped by federal program

Spinnaker

Florida is one of two states in the U.S. with high-need school districts, and Duval County is one of nine counties with these districts, according to the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

But a program exists to help these high-need districts, serving the low-income population where 40 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced cost lunch.

Teach & Inspire is a non-profit program funded by the federal government for anyone who wants to teach and has a non-education bachelor’s degree, said Najia Husseini, program coordinator for Teach & Inspire.

The program aims to recruit, certify and place new teachers of diverse and professional backgrounds in the high-need districts to ensure student success, Husseini said.

A federal grant, Transition to Teaching,  helps meet the need for teachers in the subject areas of biology, chemistry, math, physics and special education for grades K-12.

Five years ago, it would have been OK for hopeful teachers to only have an emergency or temporary license, but with the state of the economy, school districts won’t hire applicants with such licenses, Husseini said.

The program takes about eight months, but participants can take up to a year to complete it.

There is no application fee, but those accepted will need to pay a one-time, non-refundable fee
of $200.

Several steps are part of the program including teacher development, where teachers have the opportunity to observe a classroom before they get their own. It is, however, a self-study, computer-based program.

What sets Teach & Inspire apart from other teacher certification processes is that in 2007, six years after the program’s start, it became a scholarship program. Participants earn a $1,000 stipend directly after completing the certification program.

Participants must commit to teaching in one of the designated districts for three years, or they have to remit the scholarship funds. The contract also requires those who complete the program to start teaching by 2011. The program does not include job placement but has many resources and district contacts, Husseini said.

“There is a hiring freeze, [but] our resume and interview tools really help, and our exams are more rigorous than the state ones,” Husseini said.

Eligibility also states one cannot hold a renewable teaching license at the time of sign-up, but teaching certificates in Florida must be renewed every five years through a course offered by ABCTE.

E-mail Sarah Gojekian at [email protected]