Emergency permits, state licensure programs help ACS mitigate special ed teacher shortage

Throughout her years in elementary school, Megan Newby knew it was likely she would end up with the biggest desk in the classroom.

She recalls numerous teachers and support staff who pushed her to excel in her studies and made extra time to help her with difficult assignments.

“I was that kid that played school all the time,” Newby said. “I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be some type of educator.”

After graduating from Anderson High School in 2017, Newby took a gap year before joining Anderson Community Schools as a paraprofessional while taking courses at Ball State University, from which she will graduate Saturday with a general education degree. Her time at ACS included stints in classrooms at the elementary, middle and high school levels helping teach special education students before moving in January to her own classroom at Valley Grove Elementary School, where she works with seven students each day.

Along with Kyndall Cox, who teaches third and fourth grade special education students at the school, Newby guides her classes through a variety of academic and physical development activities each day.

The district employs about 125 such teachers, along with support staff, to serve approximately 1,400 special ed students — some of whom come from outside the district’s boundaries.

“Before the state got involved, finding licensed teachers in these areas was very difficult,” said Lennon Brown, human resources director for ACS. “Special ed, it had to be something you wanted to do, and that was probably one of the areas that we had the least population of people going into at that time.”

Indiana’s efforts to widen the pipeline feeding prospective special ed teachers into classrooms has drawn praise from educators including Brown, who believes bringing real-world experience into the licensing process produces more well-rounded teachers — even if they enter the profession a little later than some of their peers.

ACS officials said programs like ISEAL (Indiana Special Education Assisted Licensure) and ASSET (Aspiring Statewide Special Education Teacher) have simplified the process as well.

“They’ve created the means for people to get that special ed license,” said Pam Storm, director of federal grants at ACS. “The state has coordinated all of those factors, so it doesn’t put on that new teacher coming in, I need to do this, but how do I do it? That makes the path easier for them to figure out.”

Newby moved into her current role at Valley Grove after obtaining a temporary credential that would allow her to teach special ed full-time while simultaneously completing her bachelors degree requirements that would allow her to be fully licensed.

“I’m very blessed to be able to call this my own classroom. I’ve dreamt of this since I was a little girl,” Newby said. “I think we all know that teaching is kind of a battleground nowadays. You want to grow with your students and you push them to be able to be their own teacher someday, hopefully.

“For students like this, they don’t really get that voice,” she added. “They can’t tell you what they want to do all the time by themselves, so being able to be that voice and that advocate for them was why I chose special education.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.