GPS Certification Pathway Program launches with first cohort
For the first time in the district’s history, Gilbert Public Schools is offering a track for educators to become certified teachers. The GPS Certification Pathway Program comes at a time when Arizona and states across the country are looking for solutions to the teacher shortage. More than 30 participants are part of the program’s inaugural cohort, including GPS paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, a social worker, parents and other community members, all of whom come to the program with an existing bachelor’s degree.
“There is so much knowledge in this room. Some have taught college and others preschool. We have a research scientist. It’s really inspiring to see how they engage with each other,” said Mary Longnion, the program’s administrator.
Longnion is also the principal of GPS Global Academy, an online school in the district for K-12 students. She has been championing the pathway program from its inception. With more than two decades of experience working in education, she has witnessed firsthand the challenges that come with teacher-in-residence programs offered at universities and community colleges.
“Whatever they were learning in that class at night or online wasn’t necessarily lining up with what they needed to be doing day-to-day,” she said, “They were so tired. They would go home and have to do this online class all night and then assignments.”
The GPS Certification Pathway Program offers participants the ability to do their vocational training and teaching simultaneously. They meet once a month for a day of instruction and professional development, along with some additional days during school breaks. The program is led by Longnion, Certification Coach Tiffanie Bodemann and Special Education Coach Connie Laprise. Guest instructors from departments across the district are also invited to come share their expertise in special content areas.
"From the moment that they walk in, we are thinking about what we want them to be able to take back and use in their classrooms and which strategies are best for their students,” Longnion said.
GPS instructional tools and framework, methods and messaging are infused into the program, making the content more relevant and relatable to a participant’s daily responsibilities. Unlike those offered at universities or community colleges, the GPS Certification Pathway Program is tuition-free, eliminating any financial barriers that would keep someone from pursuing their teaching certificate.
“We’re not charging them anything. We are investing in them with personnel, an administrator, coaches and a salary. They are saving money by getting their certificate this way,” Shawn McIntosh, assistant superintendent of Gilbert Public Schools’ Office of Talent Management.
In order to apply for the pathway program, participants are required to have a bachelor’s degree. Upon completion, they are asked to continue working with Gilbert Public Schools for an additional two years. Current participants are working towards their certificate in either elementary education or special education. The certificate will allow them to work at any school in Arizona.
“Our hope is that we develop a career-long relationship and foster that sense of community. We want them to be Gilbert people, because we are going to take care of them,” Longnion said.
The current cohort began their program in July, about two weeks before the first day of school. During this time, they learned about building relationships with students and families, how to create a functioning classroom, and how to develop classroom routines and procedures that will benefit students. Bodemann and Laprise visited their classrooms to provide additional coaching and support. Those classroom visits will continue over the course of the program, happening every two weeks.
“They’ll either watch them teach, or model an activity, or co-teach a lesson. They do it near the teacher’s break or prep hour, so there is an opportunity for feedback and discussion afterwards,” Longnion said.
In the most recent program meeting, Longnion shared best practices for conferences with families. Pathway participants received handouts and access to other resources to ensure the meetings would go smoothly. Longnion also offered her perspective as a principal, giving insight into what administrators expect from teachers during these meetings.
“It’s about setting them up for success, so they feel like they know what is going on as much as possible,” she said.
When she thinks about the program’s future, Longnion looks forward to seeing more aspiring teachers in our community from all backgrounds pursuing their certification.
“These are people who’ve always wanted to be teachers, who are passionate about kids and learning,” she said, “It will be great to see it continue to grow next year and be able to keep pulling talent from our community.”