An internet search for the term “teacher shortage” brings tens of thousands of results. Over the past six months hundreds of articles have been published regarding states and communities challenged by a lack of qualified instructors.
Newman University Western Kansas Center Director Jessica Bird has been involved with education in southwest Kansans for the better part of two decades. She has seen first-hand the challenges school districts experience in filling teaching positions in the area.
“I personally have dealt with the shortage of teachers in Garden City. When I was an associate principal and principal I was often left to hire long-term subs for empty positions,” Bird said.
Bird said one troubling trend is the number of unfilled spots for elementary schools in southwest Kansas.
“Typically we were short secondary teachers and special education teachers. Teacher shortage in Southwest Kansas isn’t a new problem, but a shortage of elementary teachers is most definitely a newer trend,” Bird said.
Bird said the Newman Western Kansas Center, 236 San Jose, Suite 39, in Dodge City, is doing its part in tackling the problem.
“NU WKC is helping address this challenge by working closely with the school districts and the local community colleges. We are working diligently to find qualified students to join our program,” Bird said. “We are looking for local students who do not wish to relocate at this time.
“I am currently working with USD 457 (Garden City) in hopes of developing a ‘grow your own’ program,” Bird added. “We are targeting high school students who have already decided they want a career in education. We are looking for ways to jump start their journey and help them reach their goal of being a classroom teacher in a very timely manner.”
Bird said she is also actively looking for people who may have recently moved to the area and have their associate’s degrees.
Successful students at the Newman Western Kansas Center graduate with an elementary education degree that certifies them to teach K-6th grade. The center also offers a middle-level endorsement and an Early Childhood Unified certificate.
Bird believes the NU WKC education programs provide many benefits for future teachers.
“First and foremost, our students will gain the knowledge and skills to help make them outstanding teachers. Our job placement is nearly 100 percent after graduating from our accelerated program,” Bird explained. “Instructors in our program already have local school districts ties, giving our students a chance to show district leaders what you are capable of, thus increasing chances of being hired in their district.
“Another big benefit is a student can complete our program in just 16 months if he or she comes to us with an associate’s degree. In my opinion, that gives them an edge over graduates from other programs. A student can graduate in December and be working full time with a teaching contract in January.”
Flexibility is a key element of the center’s education programs. The coursework schedule allows students a life-friendly approach to getting a degree.
“Our program allows for our students to be able to work, if need be. Our classes are all offered in the evenings, typically in an eight-week course format,” Bird said. “We have live instructors who are extremely qualified and great teachers themselves, plus our students get to build a cohort with their peers to help them through the program.”
Newman education graduates are known for their excellence in the classroom. Numerous graduates have garnered teaching awards, including Marlene Clayton, lead teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Ellinwood, Kan., who was named the Diocese of Dodge City “Teacher of the Year” in February.
To be accepted into the center’s education program a student needs an associate’s degree or 60 or more college credit hours, including Composition 1 and 2, Public Speaking, College Algebra and General Psychology, plus an Introduction to Philosophy course and New or Old Testament. The minimum GPA requirement is 2.5 or higher.
“If someone is interested in seeing if they are a good fit for our program, I am available to meet and do a transcript analysis,” Bird said.
The center offers face-to-face instruction in Dodge City and Garden City or through interactive television in Great Bend, Hutchinson, Liberal, Pratt, Ulysses, Scott City, Syracuse, and Sharon.
In addition to its undergraduate programs, Newman offers Western Kansas teachers master’s degrees and licensure options in ESOL Curriculum and Instruction, Organizational Leadership, Building Leadership and Reading Specialist Curriculum and Instruction.