This $400,000 grant will help San Bernardino County recruit, develop, retain special education teachers
By Brian Whitehead
January 29, 2019
Inside room F35 at Highland Grove Elementary School are two future statesmen and a future fashion designer, an aspiring chef, a pint-sized techie and a girl who wants to teach others Braille when she grows up.
While they live across San Bernardino County, these six visually-impaired students gather in Highland five days a week to learn math, history and other general education subjects. On a recent weekday morning, they shared with visitors factoids about the historical figure of the day, Benjamin Franklin.
“He was an inventor,” fifth-grader Dayana Castaneda said.
“He was a scientist,” added fourth-grader Mylee Moreno.
A longtime special education teacher with the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Jeanne Nelson is among a coveted group.
Thanks to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, attracting, developing and retaining men and women to shepherd San Bernardino County students with disabilities should become a tad easier in the near future.
“Being able to get these (special education) students individual education plans and the resources they need to be able to do their classwork takes resources, means and funds,” said Dan Evans, spokesman for the county’s Superintendent of Schools. “Certainly having credentialed teachers that can work with students is a very big deal.”
Room F35 at Highland Grove Elementary opened about six years ago, providing visually-impaired students, grades kindergarten through fifth, an environment to learn at their own pace, with personal instruction, while surrounded by other children with similar needs.
A poster in the room reads: “No slacking any time.”
Another: “You are valuable. Don’t let anyone make you believe differently.”
Recently, the three boys and three girls in Nelson’s classroom alternated between doing their multiplication tables on Braille typewriters and building figures with interlocking toys. Trevor King, 9, showed his guests around the room. At Nelson’s side assisting the kids with various tasks was Braille specialist Sandra Ontiveros.
At around 11:15 a.m., the children made their way to the cafeteria for lunch.
“These are just normal kids who need to be in an environment where they can prove to themselves they can do things general education students can do,” Nelson said. “We have to provide that. And it takes a village.”
According to Evans, more than 2,500 students and about 300 teachers were in San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools special education programs this past school year.
And as the number of special education students grows, so too does the demand for qualified teachers.
Presently in the region, only Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Long Beach and Cal State San Bernardino offer master’s degrees in special education, leaving Southern California school districts scrambling for credentialed individuals to lead classes.
Meanwhile, Nelson, 52, and others in her field are approaching retirement.
“It’s a national problem,” Evans said, “in terms of trying to attract and retain special education teachers.”
“This sort of specialty credential is in high demand, but it’s a hard credential to earn,” added Scott Wyatt, a San Bernardino school board member and area director at the county’s Superintendent of Schools. “The demand is everywhere, but there’s not enough specialty programs that focus on up-and-coming staff.”
Awarded late last year to a collaborative of the county’s Superintendent of Schools, Colton Joint Unified, San Bernardino City Unified and UC Riverside, the $400,000 Commission on Teacher Credentialing grant will go, in part, toward creating a local pipeline of special education teachers.
In exchange for assistance with tuition, graduates of UCR’s new 13-month master’s degree program will serve in San Bernardino County for four years, said William “Rob” Roberts, a former special education teacher who now serves as the assistant superintendent of human resources at the county’s Superintendent of Schools.
Additionally, Roberts said, incentives will be offered for current multiple-subject credential holders who want to move into special education.
To be allocated annually through June 2023, the grant, lastly, will be used to support mentors in the field and to provide signing bonuses for newly-credentialed special education teachers.
“Getting a special education credential is not a pursuit for everyone,” Evans said. “Some of these students have severe issues, and not everyone can handle that. It takes a special individual to want to work with these students.”