Paraprofessionals could be key in closing South Dakota's teacher shortage
Right now, there are hundreds of openings for education positions across the state – but the answer to the teacher shortage might already be sitting in South Dakota’s classrooms.
The state Department of Education has opened applications for a new Teacher Apprenticeship Pathway program. This initiative could open the door for hundreds of paraprofessionals to get their full teaching certification.
David De Jong is the dean of the college of education at Dakota State University. He said this is targeting the state's teacher gap.
“Right now in South Dakota, there are over 500 teacher vacancies that are being advertised," De Jong said. "We are hearing from principals and superintendents throughout the state of South Dakota that one of their biggest concerns is not having enough teachers to do what they need to do in our K-12 schools across the state.”
While paras serve an important assistance role in the classroom, many say they’re ready to take the next step.
“We sent out a survey to all of the principals in South Dakota, and we asked the principals to forward that survey to their paraprofessionals in their building," De Jong said. "There were 619 responses, and over 500 of those responses came back that the paraprofessional was either very interested or maybe interested in earning their teacher certification.”
Further, the same survey found 250 paraprofessionals interested in special education degrees, which is among the biggest needs in South Dakota schools.
De Jong said the steps to get on the pathway begin right in a para’s own school.
“There’s an application that is available through the South Dakota Department of Education and the Board of Regents," De Jong said. "So, if there’s a paraprofessional out there that is interested in their teaching degree, their first step is to talk to their principal and enquire about this pathway.”
This initiative is headed by the state Department of Labor, Board of Regents institutions, and other smaller groups.