ST. GEORGE — During a meeting Tuesday evening, the Washington County School District Board of Education approved a new policy that identifies new local educational agency specific licensing and endorsement requirements passed earlier this year.
Under Utah Administrative Code R277-301, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, local educational agencies — such as the Washington County School District — have new requirements for teachers hoping to obtain a temporary license or endorsement for Washington County.
Utah Administrative Code R277-301 created three educator licenses that indicate level of pedagogical experience and completed education. These licenses — professional, associate and local educational agency specific — create tiers that ensure all needs are being met on the part of the teacher and the district.
The administrative rule also names each school district as a local educational agency but also includes the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The Washington County School District is unable to provide a local education agency specific educator license to special education teachers, including preschool special education.
By authorizing a license, the district is taking responsibility over ensuring the educator is working in preparation for initial licensure, while endorsement programs allow a licensed teacher to receive an additional credential.
Under the new policy, all applicants looking to obtain their license must complete a bachelor’s or higher degree in a related field of study or have occupational experience that is directly related, must complete and clear a criminal background check, and must complete the educator ethics review.
Furthermore, applications are responsible for completing professional learning modules on the Utah State Board of Education website, including educator ethics, classroom management and instruction, basic special education law and instruction, and Utah Effective Teaching Standards.
Before this policy, beginning in July 2017, teachers applying for local educational agency specific licenses were split into three groups: administrative, core and noncore. Administrative licenses required a minimum of a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and a passing score on a board-approved test, such as the Praxis II.
Core teachers were required to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher education from a regionally accredited institution and also pass the appropriate board-approved content knowledge test. On the other hand, noncore teachers were only required to have a minimum of an associate’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or verify relevant professional skill certification and meet the skills, talents or abilities specific to the teaching assignment, as determined by the local educational agency.
Teachers hoping to secure an associate or professional educator license will still be required to complete a passing score on a board-approved test or board-approved content knowledge test, among other things. Whereas the local educational agency license is limited to three years, the associate license is only valid for two years and the professional license has to be renewed every five years.
Individuals looking for endorsement from a local educational agency will be issued temporary authorization upon request. This authorization is given by district administrators for licensed teachers, including associate teachers, professional teachers and teachers from local educational agencies.
The Washington County School District Board of Education has 60 days to approve the application in a public meeting. The district is responsible for illustrating that there is an inadequate supply of highly qualified licensed applicants and including a rationale for the authorization of the license.
Local educational agency specific licenses secure temporary employment and the teacher working under this license are subject to termination at any time at the discretion of the Washington County School District. The license or endorsement is valid for three years. After three years, renewal of the license is subject to the approval or denial of the State Board of Education.
However, if the teacher’s employment with the district ends, regardless of the three-year validity, the license or endorsement will expire immediately, meaning — unlike the traditional teaching licenses — teachers with local educational agency specific licenses are confined to working in the district.
While the teacher’s licensing or endorsement is valid, the district is required to provide a mentoring program. The teacher will be connected with a trained mentor who holds a professional educator license and is assigned as an instructional coach.
The mentor is assigned to help the specially licensed teacher meet the Utah Effective Educator Standards. This might include assisting the educator with a self-assessment or working on educational strategies drawn from the school district’s instructional playbook.
However, the mentor is not assigned to evaluate the specially licensed teacher. All employees – including the mentor — are required to report any misconduct in violation of the district’s code of conduct immediately.
Before coming to the board in Tuesday’s meeting, Policy 1130 was assessed by two separate committees as well as a number of state officials, administrators and the professional development department before it was released to the public for comment over 60 days.
“We’ve had other districts actually asks for copies of it because we’re a little bit further ahead in some cases,” said Lyle Cox, the Washington County executive director of human resources.
Subsequently, the Washington County School District drafted and approved policy 1130. The board began to address the shift in July but was reluctant to make any changes until all additional guidance had been released. These changes will allow applicants to use their professional experience to apply for district teaching jobs, increasing the district’s pool of potential employees.
“I really am comfortable with this,” Cox said. “I think we will find that it is very useful, and I’m sure we’ll be grateful that we have it in certain circumstances where we really need some extra help.”
Utah has struggled with a teacher shortage for over a decade. As the state’s population continues to grow, the Utah State Board of Education is enacting changes to attract more teachers, including raising starting salaries and allowing teachers to work toward their certification as they teach.
Board president David Stirland said this is a significant policy that affects a lot of people, and Cox agreed, but said a lot of the comments on the policy thus far have been questions regarding endorsements.
For the most part, Cox said, most people are simply trying to get a grasp of the changes that are being made at the state level in regards to licenses, especially with the number of licenses and certifications that are being changed.
Each year, the district will be required to post the percent of local educational agency specific licenses, license areas or endorsements on each school’s website.
The board is scheduled to reconvene after the holiday for its next meeting on Jan. 14 in the Washington County School District Office at 4:30 p.m.
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