Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2024

Proposed: A high school just for future teachers


Steve Marcus

Third grade teacher Crystal Rodriguez calls on a student Thursday during a reading lesson at Cozine Elementary School. This fall Rodriguez became the first person hired as a full-time classroom teacher from the district’s STEP UP program, which offers high school juniors and seniors a head start on their teaching careers.

John Jasonek wants to start grooming the next generation of educators at an earlier age — by nurturing them at a charter high school designed to foster teaching.

If they’re still interested in teaching when they graduate, Jasonek says, offer them a scholarship to a local college — on the condition that after they graduate, they stay in Clark County to teach for four years.

“These would be our kids raised up to be our teachers,” Jasonek says. “They would know from the start what it means to work in Clark County; they wouldn’t be coming from out of state, where most of them don’t have a clue.”

Jasonek’s proposal is believed to be unique among the nation’s charter schools — not only by offering a curriculum that would benefit future teachers, but by promoting synergy among like-minded students who want to teach.

And he might seem a logical person to launch it. Jasonek is the executive director of the Clark County Education Association, the teachers union. His proposed Teacher Preparatory Academy Charter School springs from a joint initiative by the School District and the CCEA Community Foundation (a philanthropic affiliate of the teachers union) to work with students interested in teaching, as well as provide them with scholarships to local colleges in exchange for the commitment to work in local classrooms for four years.

That program, which began in 2004, is called the Student to Teacher Enlistment Project Undergraduate Program and referred to by its acronym, STEP UP.

If the Nevada State Board of Education agrees to sponsor the charter school, it would start in August. Charter schools receive per-pupil funding directly from the state and have greater freedom in daily operations.

Like the CCEA Community Foundation, which currently helps fund the STEP UP program, the charter school would operate separately from the union, Jasonek said. He is planning to retire as the union’s executive director in June and focus his efforts on the foundation-backed charter school.

The biggest change from the existing STEP UP program would be grouping the students in one location for all of their required course work, rather than having the college-level instruction delivered on high school campuses.

“It will make us a more efficient program to have them all under one roof,” Jasonek said. “And as a charter school, we’ll be able to model the latest instructional methods without having to deal with the bureaucracy of a huge school district.”

Currently 389 students participate in STEP UP. Of those, 148 are in high school and 241 are in college. Many of the students in the program are minorities, and nearly all of them are, or will be, the first in their families to attend college.

Promising students can earn college credit — the classes are taught at local high schools by College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College instructors — in their junior and senior years. Once students graduate, they are eligible for scholarships to continue their studies locally, in exchange for agreeing to work for the School District for at least four years after graduation.

“All my classes, my books, everything was paid for,” said Crystal Rodriguez, a 2006 graduate of Chaparral High who finished her teaching degree at NSC over the summer. “That was an amazing opportunity for me.”

In addition to being her family’s first college graduate, Rodriguez is the first STEP UP participant to land a full-time teaching job with the district. She started teaching third grade at Cozine Elementary in August.

Rodriguez said she could see the merit of turning STEP UP into a charter school.

“It would be a nice support system if everyone was together,” Rodriguez said. “At Chaparral there were only six or seven of us (in the STEP UP program). It’s easier to set up things like study groups if you have more students.”

Rodriguez is evidence that the “grow your own” premise can work, Jasonek says. A second STEP UP teacher’s hiring is pending final approval, and other participants work as classroom instructional aides while they complete their college classes.

Historically about 50 percent of the district’s teachers leave within five years of being hired, having benefitted from the many hours and dollars spent on their recruitment, hiring and professional development. The district hired 727 new teachers for the 2009-10 academic year, with 28 percent of them coming from out of state. In the prior academic year, the district hired 1,388 new teachers, with 37 percent from out of state.

In exit interviews, the most common reason teachers give for leaving isn’t dissatisfaction with the district or its pay scale.

“They’re just going back home,” said Brenda Nielsen, the district’s STEP UP coordinator.

There is both an upside and potential downside to programs such as STEP UP, said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C.

“There are certainly people who know from a young age they want to be teachers, and anything we can do to expedite getting their talent into the classroom is a good idea,” said Jacobs, who wasn’t aware of any existing charter schools with similar missions. “At the same time, when we look at teacher prep programs in the United States compared to the highest-performing countries’, we don’t set a particularly high bar for who can get in.”

In fact, said Jacobs, the academic standard for admission to many college teacher-prep programs is lower than the grade-point average needed to maintain eligibility to play varsity sports.

One element of a strong teacher prep program is that it set rigorous entrance requirements, rather than be “open access,” Jacobs said.

“If you’re going to offer accelerated prep programs in the high school, you need to make sure the candidates have the right qualities,” Jacobs said. “You need to have strong math and English skills — it’s not enough just to have the desire to teach.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy