Eastern Suffolk BOCES is set to receive about $4.6 million from New York State to create a pipeline of candidates qualified to go on to special education teaching careers in East End schools.
The grant, announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sept. 6, creates space for 153 teaching assistants — many of whom will be recruited from underrepresented communities, state and local officials have said — to receive professional mentoring and financial assistance to attend graduate school for the master’s degree needed to become a certified special ed teacher. After two years of schooling and one year of training, these newly certified teachers will go on to support 51 schools in the region.
“It’s going to have a really, really great impact,” said Claudy Damus-Makelely, the associate superintendent of educational services for Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which was the largest grant recipient among the first round of awards given in the $30 million Empire State Teacher Residency Program. “It’s going to absolutely increase teacher diversity on Long Island and the East End, and it’s also going to assist districts with hiring highly qualified special education teachers, which, as we know, can be difficult.”
Many districts here and elsewhere are facing a critical shortage of teaching assistants and classroom teachers across different subjects. The Springs School, for example, currently has openings for teaching assistants, substitutes, and a leave-replacement math specialist, according to the OLAS Jobs Database. As of press time the Riverhead, Southold, Southampton, and Hampton Bays School Districts were also seeking teachers, T.A.s, and substitutes, according to the database.
“Teachers take on the vital role of educating and preparing our children for a successful future, and we have the responsibility to ensure they have the necessary resources and training to support them in this important task,” Governor Hochul said in an announcement. “We’re working hard to build a worldclass public education system in New York and our investment in our teachers is a core component of our success.”
The specifics of the Eastern Suffolk BOCES program are still being finalized, Ms. Damus-Makelely said a few days after the grants were announced. “We are still riding the high. We’re so excited about this.”
She pledged that it “will not be a cumbersome process” to access the program. “We are here to support those teaching assistants hand-in-hand through the vetting process, the application process. We’re there, side by side.”
Eligible for those 153 spots will be people who are in teaching careers but who lack the right college or university degrees just yet. The teaching assistant role is an entry-level position carrying a minimum requirement of a high school diploma or G.E.D. and certain training courses offered by the State Education Department.
Ms. Damus-Makelely gave an example: “It can be a person right out of college who decided they wanted to have an arts theory degree, then comes to Eastern Suffolk BOCES as a teaching assistant, falls in love with the students and with teaching, and says, ‘Oh my, now I need to get my certification.’ “
“We’ll have the ability to flood the region with highly qualified special education teachers,” she said. “That benefits everyone in all of our East End districts. . . . They’ll be hitting the ground running.”