Competency-based education pilot program benefits QPS hiring

Quincy High junior Blaine Wilson gets some Algebra 2 help from QHS co-teacher Amanda Cramsey on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Cramsey is part of a pilot program at QHS where QU students working on their licensure can be in the classroom. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 6, 2018 12:40 pm

QUINCY -- Newly hired Quincy High School teacher Amanda Cramsey spends four hours co-teaching algebra and covers two hours of resource for students with individualized education programs.

"It's going really well," Cramsey said. "I'm able to help the kids in resource that I have in my math class."

An added benefit of participating in a statewide pilot program for competency-based education makes it easier for Quincy Public Schools to hire staff -- and for Cramsey to get back in the classroom.

"I have my degree in education. I taught in a different state. When I moved back to Illinois, I did not keep up my license in the other state, so when I decided to start teaching again, it was going to take quite a bit of work to get my teaching degree in Illinois," Cramsey said. "That's why I had never done it."

The competency-based approach provides more flexibility for students to earn credits toward graduation -- and the pilot program waives many existing school code requirements that can hamper that flexibility.

The pilot program, for example, allows Cramsey to work on a master's program through Quincy University while earning her Illinois teaching certification and doing some of the work at QHS where she teaches.

"It's all very new for QU and for QPS. It's worked in other districts very well, and it kind of gets people like myself, who let their license lapse in another state, an opportunity to get in the classroom," Cramsey said. "It will take some work on my part, but it will be worth it in the end."

QPS hired Cramsey and Shanti Bowen for positions at QHS and Taylor Peters at Baldwin through provisions of the pilot program.

"This allows us to be a little more flexible and look at candidates we wouldn't previously have been able to hire," QPS Personnel Director Lisa Otten said. "All three of our competency-based teachers are special education teachers. We know those are the hardest positions to fill, so the competency-based education pilot is going to allow us to fill positions we previously were unable to fill."

All three are on what Otten called a "progressive" plan.

"At the point of hiring, they will tell us their plan to complete their professional license and when they will be certified," Otten said. "Each one of these teachers has a mentor teacher they'll be working with closely."

The new hires also get a broader look at teaching positions in the district, with one spending time in two types of special education classrooms and in a co-teaching classroom instead of being hired for just one position.

"We feel like we're setting those teachers up for success when we give them opportunities to find out where they are best suited for our district," Otten said.

All three were hired in November as one of the first steps taken by the district after the pilot program was approved by the state, and QPS is working closely with the Regional Office of Education to make sure all of the requirements are met.

Cramsey started the school year working as a full-time sub while the pilot program details were completed before moving to the certified staff. "It didn't really change what I was doing in the classroom. It just changed how I'm getting paid basically," she said.

She sees advantages to the program for herself and others with a college degree but not a teaching license.

"A lot of people who have a degree, which didn't work out quite like they wanted it to and are interested in teaching, can get their foot in the door and work with QU and get their teaching degree," Cramsey said. "I think it's a great thing with the teacher shortage."

Otten expects the district to add more competency-based teachers to the staff.

"As we're talking with people interested in teaching, our pool is now larger because we're able to look at potential candidates who might not have their program completed," Otten said. "When we are doing our hiring, regardless if we're hiring under the competency-based pilot or not, we are executing best practices in our hiring, making sure our candidates are the most qualified candidates for the positions we're hiring for. That will always be the case."