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Decatur Public Schools Offer Long-Term Subs Chance to Earn Illinois Teacher Certification

March 29, 2023 | TeacherReady

TeacherReady Classroom
TeacherReady Classroom

Decatur Public Schools in Illinois has come up with an innovative way to tackle teacher shortages: offering long-term substitute teachers the chance to earn their teaching certificates through an online alternative certification program (TeacherReady) accredited by The University of West Florida. Candidates can progress at their own pace while keeping their day jobs as substitutes in the Decatur Public School system. It takes between nine and 12 months to complete the TeacherReady program and take your certification exams with the Florida Department of Education to earn your teaching license. Candidates who are licensed in Florida will be able to transfer their licenses back to Illinois, thanks to a reciprocal licensure agreement between the two states.

Decatur Public Schools will pay up to $6,000 of the costs for each candidate, which covers tuition and testing requirements. In return, candidates must work for the school district for a minimum of three years after receiving their Illinois teacher certification credentials.

Ashley Grayned, executive director of Innovative Programs and strategic planning for Decatur Public Schools, brought the idea to the board of education, who then approved the pilot program. “Some students are already in the course, so the district was creative in reimbursing them, and then the students who will start. We wanted to remove barriers, so we’re taking those costs on for the students,” says Grayned.

The program is a win-win for both the school district and substitute teachers. The district can fill teacher vacancies with individuals who have already developed relationships with students and other staff, while the substitute teachers can earn their teaching certificates without having to quit their jobs or take on additional debt. The pilot program was originally approved for five candidates but was later increased to 10 and then to 25, and the hope is that it will become a permanent feature of the district.

Jason Fox, director of human resources for Decatur Public Schools, told the Herald & Review that the district currently has 51 openings, and offering the program to long-term substitutes will hopefully alleviate some of the shortages and keep them as employees. The candidates will go through the same application process as any other candidate, and the district can’t guarantee that they’ll be placed in the same job they were filling as subs. However, the district plans to do its best to place them in a position.

“The risk is on us,” Fox said. “If we don’t have a position you’re certified for, you’re released from your three-year obligation.”

The program is already proving to be a hit, with a great turnout for an informational open house held by the district. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am,” Superintendent Rochelle Clark told the group. “Coming back to Decatur was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I think you’re going to find this place so rewarding that you’re never going to want to leave.”

Ultimately, the program is an excellent example of how innovative thinking can help solve persistent problems. With teacher shortages plaguing many school districts across the country, programs like this can help ensure that every student receives a quality education.

“Through our program, candidates can use their work with students as their fieldwork for the job-embedded field components and they will do online coursework and take state exams,” says Sarah Miller, Director of TeacherReady. “And when they’re finished, they’re going to have their Illinois teaching certificate. We’re very excited about this partnership and helping to get great teachers in the classroom.”