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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With … Karen Kunkel

Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce GO CAPS Coordinator

Posted online

Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies recently announced it’s beginning a teacher education strand. What initiated that decision?
There are fewer people entering teacher education programs nationwide. It’s a loss of 36 percent. In the state of Missouri, it’s at 22 percent right now. Some of the highest needs are (science, technology, engineering and math) and special-education teachers. We’re having to replace those who are retiring, in addition to those pursuing other career paths.

Why are they changing careers?
From a nationwide perspective, it’s dissatisfaction from leadership in school districts, frustration with salary levels, frustration with class sizes. There is a huge social-work aspect that is in education that did not exist before. And, a lot of times, teachers are evaluated on test scores.

What’s being done to address those problems?
Schools are taking more project-based learning. There’s more stickiness to subject matter. School districts across the country are evaluating the support system they have for teachers.

What about salaries? In 2017, the National Education Association and National Center for Education Statistics ranked Missouri 43rd nationwide for average classroom teacher salary.
We see that going on throughout the country right now. When you’re looking at restructuring that, people are looking at taxes and re-evaluating how taxes are spent.

What does the new teacher strand look like for a student who enrolls?
We’re looking at not only K-12, we’re looking at higher education and also the world of corporate training. Students don’t understand all that goes into creating curriculum and different clubs or athletic teams teachers are coaching or being sponsors of. They aren’t aware of mandatory reporting regulations, how to deal with student discipline issues. They’re not aware of the professional development teachers have. Our goal is to introduce that to these students.

Why is this training important for high school students interested in teaching?
One flaw we have at the collegiate level is students don’t often get out to do student teaching until the last semester of their senior year. It’s great when you’re a high-school junior or senior and able to go off and experience this side of it to determine if this is the path I want to go down. If not, great, we’ve saved you a lot of time and money. And for those who decide, “Yes, this is the passion I want to stick with,” we help them (find) the best path.

What are you hearing from school districts about the program?
Superintendents who are working with us have identified the need that they see a talent shortage. They need to see greater-prepared teachers and a greater number of teachers. To have a healthy economy, you have to have excellent education opportunities and excellent employment opportunities.

Do you have students signed up yet?
We have 29 applicants, so we’re off to a good start. It says there’s definitely a demand for it. Maximum enrollment is 25. The new teacher education strand has been approved by our board to start as a half-time (staff member) – either an a.m or p.m. session. We are evaluating an increase in class size or perhaps reallocating resources to make this a full-time position. The teachers are actually employees of SPS, so the salaries are in line with the SPS salary steps.

When will the first cohort begin?
Probably in June, we’ll have a site officially determined. Our first day of class is Aug. 20.

Karen Kunkel can be reached at karen@springfieldchamber.com.

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