Minnesota’s teacher shortage in special education is serious and growing, and Megan McAllister knows it firsthand. She is the staffing coordinator for District 916, which serves a large portion of the greater metro area. It is one of Minnesota’s three districts dedicated to providing highly specialized educational programs and services to students, families, and school districts in a cost-effective way.
In 2013, McAllister didn’t know how the district could keep up with its needs for staff who serve students with emotional and behavioral disorders. High quality educational assistants like Brittany Beaudette (pictured) loved their jobs and excelled. But it was almost impossible for them to go back to school to get the degree and licensure they needed to advance into the teaching profession, and doing so would take them out of their valued positions.
Then McAllister got the name of U educational psychology professor Jennifer McComas. “I called her and basically said, ‘Help! Can you help us?’” McAllister says.
McComas responded immediately, and developed a plan to deliver the existing master’s degree curriculum in a combination of formats—off-site lecture, online, and clinical observations. When fall semester began in September 2014, a pilot cohort of new U students included 23 working professionals in five school districts.
In addition to their demanding jobs, the students came together weekly for interactive learning tailored to their goals. They made the most of the knowledge, experience, and perspectives they all brought to the classroom each week.
It was a successful pilot year, and McAllister reports strong feedback from District 916 principals. “These EAs have taken it to a new level and are now leaders within the program,” she says.