Bemidji Area Schools might 'grow' its own teachers

Bemidji Area Schools leaders are considering ways to help existing staff become classroom teachers.

Under a set of long-term goals approved by the School Board on Monday, district staff might start a "grow your own" teacher program, which could help address a nationwide teacher shortage here and get more teachers of color—American Indians in particular—into a workforce that's overwhelmingly white but teaches a student body that's considerably more diverse.

"We're just starting to kick around the idea," said Superintendent Tim Lutz.

In a nutshell, the program—which for now amounts to a few ideas floating around the district's Minnesota Avenue headquarters—would help paraprofessionals or other staff earn a teaching license. That could mean scholarships, tuition reimbursements, or child care for staff who want to go back to school. It could also mean trying to gin up interest among high schoolers to become teachers later in life, perhaps by creating a teaching career academy in the same vein as the increasingly popular ones for business management, construction trades, health careers, and so on.

"There's no magic bullet at all in this" Jordan Hickman, the district's director of human resources, told the Pioneer on Friday. "Because what drives you is gonna be different than what drives me is gonna be different from what drives (Superintendent) Tim (Lutz). So I think it's finding a combination of things that creates interest in a lot of different people and meets the needs of those different people."

For now, the district benefits from a "fast track" program at Bemidji State University that puts together licensure plans and coursework for people who already have a bachelor's degree and want to teach that subject. And district and union leaders agreed a few years ago on contract language that lets paraprofessionals take a leave of absence to get their degree or licensure. But only a few people have taken advantage of that, Hickman said, because they'd be giving up income to do so and because they can study for a license or degree during summer break, anyway.

And, Hickman said, growing the district's own teachers would be about more than race.

"It's great to get industrial tech teachers that are female. It's great to get primary teachers who are male," he said. "It's nice to have that balance so that, at some point, every kid sees somebody that they can relate to."

Go to website.