Teacher shortages are not a problem unique to the Newton school district, but what is unique is the approach USD 373 is taking to try and address that issue.

Mirroring a plan used by Wichita USD 259 (and a handful of other districts across the state), a Grow Your Own Teacher program was proposed to the Newton Board of Education on Monday, with the hopes of being implemented by the 2019-2020 school year.

"We're trying to come up with ways to get good educators into our schools, and so more districts are looking at something similar," said Jane Nichols, Director of Human Resources.

Similar to efforts made to help teachers get special education certification, Superintendent Deb Hamm noted the program is intended to help current full-time, benefitted staff who may want to teach overcome the obstacles (i.e. the cost of going back to school) in the way of getting their license, all while keeping their current job.

Programs currently offered through Wichita State University, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University provide a number of avenues for para-educators/aides to pursue their license while continuing to work full-time. Additionally, the Grow Your Own Teacher program is intended to provide financial assistance — tuition reimbursement (up to $1,000 per semester) — for those with a passion for a teaching career.

"This is an opportunity that we've come up with to help assist them and keep them in our district," Hamm said.

In return for the tuition assistance through the program, staff would then be asked to teach in USD 373 for the number of semesters for which they received said reimbursement, with Nichols stating the district hopes to give out five to 10 "scholarships" a year through the program.

Enrollment into the Grow Your Own Teacher program will include a rigorous application process to include both written and oral interviews. with applicants to be graded on academic history, professional references, communication skills, etc. Thorough as the district intends to be, Nichols noted it is very aware there are quality applicants out there.

"We have some amazing para-educators and aides that really should be teaching. I feel a little bit of their problem is the finance part," Nichols said. "It is expensive to go back to school. If we can help them in any way to get them to that classroom, where I think they would do a good job, I think that's important that we try to do that."

Hamm noted that, further down the road, the district would also like to look into another program that would help teachers get additional endorsements.

Questions were raised by board members about any additional student teaching requirements, but Nichols noted maintaining a full-time job while going through the licensure process covers that aspect. She noted that things go even smoother if applicants already have a bachelor's degree.

"It can be a pretty fast turnaround for some of those folks who have a bachelor's degree currently," Nichols said.

Applications for the Grow Your Own Teacher program will be requested at least 45 days prior to the start of the semester that funding is being requested for, with 2019-2020 intended to be the first year it is open to district employees. Action on the program is intended to be taken at the school board's next meeting on April 8.

In other business, the Newton BOE:

Heard a presentation from RaileRobotics coach Jim Rippe and some team members on the program's success this season, including a presentation of the regional championship banner the team earned at a recent competition in Olathe.
Approved the consent agenda, including past minutes, payment of bills and the purchase of Traversa bus tracking software.
Received an update on the bond proposal, with Hamm noting she and Director of Business Services Matt Morford gave testimony on the negative impact of the bond cap last week in Topeka. No more information was available following those hearings, but Hamm said they left believing that action may be taken retroactively to impact the bond cap as of July 1, 2018.
Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Newton YMCA to help provide a Summer Scholars program (to address summer learning loss), with the district planning to host it at Sunset Elementary.
Approved the 2019-2020 student fee schedule with no changes. Board member Angela Becker called for an elimination or reduction to those fees (based on free-and-reduced rates), and while fellow BOE members were empathetic to that cause they also noted they wanted to see more consistency in state funding needs being met before taking any such action.
Approved the Chisholm Middle School redesign launch plan for the 2019-2020 school year.
Approved the gifts of an $8,000 grant from United Way to the Copper Early Education Center infant-toddler program, $1,500 from Park Aerospace to RaileRobotics and $1,200 from Full Vision to the Newton High School welding program, as well as donations of $381.87 from Heartland Credit Union to Chisholm Middle School, $250 from Wal-Mart to Sunset Elementary, $500 from New York Life to Santa Fe 5/6 Center for sensory room items and three separate donations to RaileRobotics from Wal-Mart ($50), Dillons ($100) and SME ($500).
Approved 2019-2020 staffing positions for Opportunity Academy.
Approved the continuation grant (which was received, to allow for two additional full-time classrooms) and the grant budget for Head Start.
Approved updates to the Responsible Driving Driver's Education curriculum for Newton High School.
Approved the revised, more detailed Google Parent/Guarding Consent forms to be used in the enrollment process.
With a premium decrease of nearly seven percent in the USD 373 health insurance rates, approved a $20 reduction to the district's contribution (which would still see a savings realized by all employees) for 2019-2020.
Following the changes made to Head Start requiring additional room at Cooper — and the displacement of Newton Community Childcare Center — the school board agreed to waive the remaining monthly utility charges ($690 monthly for four months total) for the childcare center.