Schools Succeed With Nontraditional Teachers

Published April 1, 2007

Douglas County, Colorado’s nontraditional teacher preparation program has blossomed with the new Castle View High School in Castle Rock. Opened in late 2006, the school consists of four themed academies: visual and performing arts; electronic and business media; world languages; and math, science, and engineering.

“I’d be surprised if you can find any one school in America like Castle View,” said principal Dr. Lisle Gates. “It includes the meshing of many good thoughts.”

Community Interest

Gates got the idea to license outside specialists from an aeronautical engineer who works at nearby Lockheed-Martin. The engineer, who served as a consultant to develop Castle View’s program, expressed a strong desire to teach a nine-week course at the school. Yet when he learned of the commitment needed to meet the state’s licensure requirements, he was frustrated that he wouldn’t be able to get into the classroom, Gates said.

Gates since has received calls from certified public accountants, a bank manager, a manufacturing engineer, and others who have said they would like to teach at Castle View part-time.

The high school plans to expand its world language offerings to eight next year, including Arabic and Russian. The Colorado Department of Education does not rate a Beijing-born holder of an accredited master’s degree as a “qualified” Chinese language instructor, but Castle View does.

“Our intent for this program is that we ferret out good, quality people, mentor them, nurture them, and make them effective teachers in the classroom,” Gates said.

The Professionals in Residence (PIR) enrollees will not work toward achieving a state-recognized license. However, they will receive intensive “boot camp” training in classroom management and other instructional basics, along with ongoing support.

County Partnerships

A key to getting the alternative licensure program afloat has been Douglas County’s close working relationships with other players.

“It’s an effort that involves every stakeholder in the district,” said Gates, who found nearly universal enthusiastic support from parents and students in 40 neighborhood meetings. In addition, the district is cooperating with local colleges and universities, which are helping to develop the program and have offered to share the services of adjunct instructors.

Pat McGraw, chief of staff for Douglas County School District, identified the connection between the district and the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) as vital to the process.

“The union is involved. They’re partnering with us,” McGraw said.

Union Support

Through its affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the local union “can provide staff development course[s] to teachers” in many different areas, said DCFT President Brenda Smith.

“A big positive piece is teachers training teachers,” Smith said.

In 2004, AFT approved support for alternative licensure programs that have rigorous screening processes and high performance standards, are field-based, and include relevant coursework and an emphasis on mentorship.

Smith said AFT’s counterpart–the National Education Association, which has staunchly opposed alternative licensing–would be well-advised to follow AFT’s lead in this area.

“By saying they can’t support alternative licensure for teachers, it’s just a way of avoiding the problem,” Smith said. “If they don’t step forward and help [solve] the problem, then they’re blocking something that could have a lot of potential.”

Ben DeGrow