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Amid shortage, partnership aims to retain new special ed teachers

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A new collaboration involving Albuquerque Public Schools is aiming to train and bring in more special education teachers to the district.

APS, Central New Mexico Community College and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation union have partnered to create the Special Education Teacher Training or SETT program, a 15-month alternative licensure pathway that gives candidates teaching experience.

APS currently has 84 special education vacancies. And Karen Rudys, executive director employee relations and staffing, said special education – and all subjects – are harder to staff than in the past, adding that hiring efforts come amidst a national and statewide teacher shortage.

From left, Kelley Peters, CNM education faculty; Erica Barrerio, dean of the CNM School of Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences; Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein; and Karen Rudys, APS executive director of labor relations and staffing. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

From left, Kelley Peters, CNM education faculty; Erica Barrerio, dean of the CNM School of Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences; Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein; and Karen Rudys, APS executive director of labor relations and staffing. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Part of the vacancy problem is turnover, ATF president Ellen Bernstein said, noting that when teachers aren’t prepared or supported, they leave the profession.

To combat turnover, SETT builds in time for program candidates to co-teach with another educator.

Kelley Peters, an education faculty member at CNM, thinks that will be key for long-term retention.

“To survive your first year really requires not only the dedication of the teacher but also a tremendous amount of support and guidance, which is currently lacking for those teachers,” Peters said.

Typically a teacher would jump into a classroom right after finishing training.

Candidates accepted into the program are projected to start co-teaching in the fall, and Bernstein emphasized that teachers will start earning a salary at that time.

“They’ll be paid like they are a teacher, but they will actually be in training,” Bernstein said.

Rudys said APS is paying for SETT through operational funds that would be going to salaries for open positions.

The program, which is looking to fill about 25 spots, will pay for tuition and the costs of the state teacher assessment, Rudys said.

Ideal candidates include education assistants or other current APS employees with a bachelor’s degree, she said.

Candidates for the program must have a bachelor’s degree, a 3.0 GPA, pass the New Mexico teacher assessment and agree to work as a special education teacher in APS for three years, among other criteria.

Rudys said the teachers who complete the program will be assigned to schools with the highest need.

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