Following the implementation of a new Grow Your Own Teacher Program last spring, the Newton Board of Education saw it bear fruit, as the first round of applicants were brought before the board for approval at its meeting on Monday.

Similar to efforts made to help teachers get special education certification, the Grow Your Own Teacher program was launched with the intent of helping current full-time, benefited staff who may want to teach overcome the obstacles, such as the cost of going back to school, in the way of getting their license, all while keeping their current job. Additionally, USD 373 director of human resources Jane Nichols pitched it as a measure to hopefully address the issues with teacher shortages in the district.

Programs currently offered through Wichita State University, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University provide a number of avenues for paraeducators/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.

Nichols invited Santa Fe 5/6 Center assistant principal Brandon Cheeks and district tech integration specialist Megan Nagel to sit on committee to vet potential applicants, with the goal to approve between five and 10 each year. In the short time since the program was announced, the district had two applicants — Newton High School para-educator Amy Branson and Sunset Elementary regular education aide Carla McConnell — for the 2019-2020 school year, with those applicants having to submit two letters of recommendation (from a colleague and their building principal) and go through a nearly one-hour interview with the committee discussing their interest in teaching and how the Grow Your Own Teacher program would help them.

"They both did wonderful. I think they would both be great teachers for us in the future," Nichols said.

Both applicants will go through one year of courses with Wichita State University before becoming a "teacher of record," and as part of the program Branson and McConnell will then be expected to teach in USD 373 for at least two years (an amount equal to the number of semesters tuition assistance is requested).

Launching the program officially this school year, Nichols is hopeful that will continue to attract more potential teachers and provide an incentive for some more-than-capable individuals already in the district.

"I think it's a great way to give folks who are in our district who love to be here (a chance) to become teachers and love our kids," Nichols said.

Newton BOE members approved Branson and McConnell as participants in the Grow Your Own Teacher program for 2019-2020.

In other business, the BOE:

• Heard a presentation on the proposed budget from director of business services Matt Morford, who outlined the financial situation for the 2019-2020 school year, noting this is the first year in his tenure the district will be working under what has been ruled constitutionally adequate school funding legislation. That has led to an increase in funding for the district, amounting to an additional $271 received per student. Combined with rising property valuations, that has led to a proposed drop in the total mill levy (from 63.317 to 60.874), thanks also in part to the Newton Recreation Commission — part of the USD 373 taxing authority — approving a decrease in its mill levy.

• Approved the consent agenda items including personnel reports, milk bids, Slate Creek floor repair plans and more.

• Approved the 2019-2020 Opportunity Academy staff handbook.

• Building off discussion among staff, both in the Newton High School Business Department and Ag Academy, heard an amended plan for Ag Academy graduation requirements. New assistant principal Blake Smith noted that after talks with Business Department head Jessica Crabtree, the new agribusiness class at the Ag Academy was being asked to cover graduation credits for economics and business essentials (not financial management), after taking a closer look at how the curriculum lined up. The board approved the amended graduation requirements.

• Approved the proposed 2019-2020 budget for publication, including a notice of hearing for Aug. 19.

• Approved the 2019-2020 substitute handbook.

• Acknowledged and approved a gift of $200 from Newton Et Cetera Shop to Chisholm Middle School for games valued at $200 to promote positive student interaction and school enrichment.

• Was presented with the year end balance transfers (to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year) for review.

• Received the Santa Fe 5/6 Center 2019-2020 staff handbook for review.