teachers wanted

Wednesday, February 19, 2020
By Jordan Privett jprivett@cassville-democrat.com

Para awarded grant to help further education

The Southwest Center (SWC) for Educational Excellence received a $3.7 million grant by the US Department of Education of a federal Teach Quality Program.

The $3.7 million will help assist 37 paraprofessionals selected during the first cohort attain their teacher certifications.

By addressing the teacher shortage and teacher retention crisis in southwest Missouri, the partnership between the SWC and Western Governors University (WGU) will help the 41 school districts of the SWC.

Through innovative thinking, WGU has an online curriculum to provide this opportunity.

MoACT is the $3.7 million grant that will span over five years.

In the Wheaton school district, one paraprofessional, Fugi Thao, who has been working with the school district for five years, will continue her education with the use of this grant.

“This grant will help with the financial aspect,” she said. “Before, I was paying out of pocket going to Crowder in Cassville.”

She was paying $2,000 per semester.

“My end goal is to become a classroom teacher,” she said. “The course itself should take me 18 months to complete, but it could take me up to six months longer.”

That said, she is thankful for the opportunity.

“I told my husband if I was going to go back, I didn’t want to have student loans,” she said. “I love Wheaton. My heart right now is staying here.”

Originally, Thao had her heart set on teaching the first grade, but she has enjoyed working with the sixth-grade students.

“I am looking forward to this great opportunity,” she said. “I am very excited.”

Transferring to GWU from Crowder did offer its own issues with transferring her credits.

Melissa Massey, director at the SWC, said that is one of the few kinks that have had to be worked out.

“There is a teacher shortage right now,” she said. “DESE is addressing that.”

However, the teacher shortage in rural Missouri is why this grant was written.

“The SWC will change the game,” Massey said. “[After the program] teachers will work for their school districts for three years.”

The opportunity with this grant is financial, but it also allows for the opportunity for paraprofessionals to work and go back to school, which can be a difficult obstacle.

“All districts that are a member of the SWC are eligible to apply,” she said. “If the program goes as planned, there will be an opportunity for two cohorts over the five years, and the application process will begin again in about a year.”

Massey said there were 175 inquires of interest, and 75 of them filled out an application. A total of 37 were chosen.

“This grant provides a living stipend that covers the expenses,” she said. “The goal here is sustainability, and we hope to be able to replicate this throughout the state.”

The grant itself took about two months of continuous work to write.

“It was very competitive with other states as well, so we are honored to get this grant,” she said. “Not even larger districts have a large job pool — more, but not enough.”

Massey said this is the only program like this in the nation.

“We urge you to think of your favorite teachers when you were in school, that is what people want for their children, the same experience,” she said.

Lance Massey, Wheaton superintendent, said the Wheaton school district has eight paraprofessionals that work in the elementary.

“The really exciting part is having someone that knows our culture and gets us to the point of hitting the ground running with that experience,” he said. “Being a rural district, the applicant pool is limited. When we post a elementary teacher position, we may get 2-5 applicants, and those aren’t always a good fit.”

Massey said the opportunity is not only a financial boost for Thao, but an opportunity for the professional development that she will bring back to the district.