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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — Sherri Harris, a preschool teacher at Spalding Park Elementary in Sioux City, is going back to school as a student.
Harris, who is in her first year in an integrated preschool room, now has found herself looking at colleges to earn additional certification required of preschool teachers by Iowa code, the Sioux City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1rPDKIr ).
Preschool teachers in districts participating in the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program must obtain a bachelor's degree in education and must also have an early childhood endorsement.
Harris said she has to take an additional three classes to earn the endorsement, which will take her about nine months.
The program, established in 2007, provides funding to participating districts to ensure area students have access to early childhood education programs. According to the Iowa Department of Education, 320 of the state's 346 districts were expected to participate in the program this year.
While Harris understands the endorsement is necessary for her career, some educators said the additional requirements — along with a shortage of college opportunities — have caused a bit of a cramp in the number of teachers available.
"We're sitting pretty darn good on preschool teachers," said Lawton-Bronson Elementary Principal Chad Shook. "But the applicant pool is not very deep when it comes to having a combination of early childhood and early childhood/special education endorsements, which is what most schools need."
Rod Earleywine, superintendent with Sergeant Bluff-Luton schools, said the district currently has enough teachers but some concern exists should a position open.
"We were fortunate enough to hire a preschool teacher this year," he said. "But overall, there is a lack of preschool teachers."
In order to fill the gap, teachers are allowed to teach with a provisional endorsement while working to obtain the additional requirement. Sally Hartley, early childhood and special education teacher consultant with the Northwest Area Education Agency, said the provisional license has allowed districts to fill teaching needs.
She said the conditional allowance is also valuable, as prospective teachers don't have many opportunities to receive an early childhood degree while pursuing a four year degree at college. Local community colleges and universities have begun to offer programs for teachers who have achieved an education degree as participation in the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program increases.
"I think that early childhood isn't something that every college has because they may have not had the numbers," she said. "But now some colleges are adjusting."
Kim Burrack, head of the Sioux City district's preschool initiative, added that if more colleges offered a four year early childhood degree, more teachers would likely pursue a position at the preschool level.
"With potential preschool teachers, practicum experience may not be available in the area they're interested in pursuing," she said. "If student teaching practicums are in upper grades, not in preschool, that's what they'll pursue as a career."
Hartley said that in order to help teachers attain the additional certification, the AEA, Iowa Department of Education and local colleges will work with them to make sure they are on pace to become fully qualified.
The Department of Education gives teachers in the provision stage two or three years to attain the endorsement. The AEA will monitor classroom activity and offer classes to help with training.
Jocelyn Flattery, concept manager for Building Blocks preschool and child care, said willingness of local and state entities to work with prospective teachers has helped keep an adequate staff for its 72, 4-year-old preschool students.
"Our area is awesome about being proactive so they don't have long to travel," she said.
While the additional certification may pose inconveniences to teachers and districts, educators know it's ultimately a benefit to their institutions.
"Getting that extra training puts in mind the difference between preschool and second-graders," Hartley said. "Preschool children just don't do well sitting and hearing an adult talk, they need to play to understand a purpose. Teachers will have a far better feeling for what their role is."
"I think they are useful," added Laura Collins, a preschool teacher at Lawton-Bronson. "It makes us accountable for what we're doing in preschool. There's a focus on what we want kids to do going into kindergarten."
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com
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