WAYNE — The school district is partnering with Montclair State University to offer an apprenticeship program for teachers aides that will allow them to become certified in education while continuing their employment.
The pilot program is expected to create a smoother path for paraprofessionals who want to be classroom leaders, but who have until now lacked opportunities to advance in their careers.
Schools Superintendent Mark Toback said there have been no easy answers to solve that problem.
“We knew that we needed to act locally — we needed to find a way to address the teacher shortage,” he said in a recent presentation to the Board of Education.
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The program is believed to be the first of its kind in New Jersey, and Montclair State officials want it to be a model for other colleges to follow.
“This is going to be historic,” said Iris DiMaio, the director of strategic partnerships and community engagement at Montclair State. “All of us in higher education, we’re very excited to bring this to New Jersey.”
Paraprofessionals who have at least 60 college credits can graduate from the program with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, and the necessary certification, in three years.
The program is scheduled to start next semester.
Montclair State is the second-largest university in New Jersey after Rutgers. It was founded as a normal school, or an institution that trains teachers, 115 years ago.
Donna Reichman, Wayne’s assistant schools superintendent, said 33 paraprofessionals expressed interest in the program.
There are 210 paraprofessionals working in the district, Toback said. The starting salary for the aides is $24,000 per year, but it could vary depending on their experience and number of hours.
Full-time paraprofessionals are eligible for health care benefits, Toback said.
The district will reimburse tuition for participating paraprofessionals up to $2,700 per year, Toback said. In addition, Montclair State is offering a discount to make the program even more affordable.
As an extension of the program, DiMaio said, graduates can earn master’s degrees in teaching by taking on one more year of coursework.