Moving to head of the class
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
Several special programs that include the Department of Education helping with a large share of college tuition are bringing a small new flock of special education teachers into the state's ranks — and improving the qualifications of some educational assistants looking to advance.
While the improvements have been prodded by the need to comply with the Felix Consent Decree as well as No Child Left Behind requirements, the regulations are offering new, better-paying options to many who have been working in lower-paid positions with the Department of Education for years.
For Charlene Naeole, who has just graduated with an associate degree in teaching from Leeward Community College, the advancement is giving her inspiration to go on for a bachelor's in teaching. Not only would it offer her her own classroom for the first time in 18 years, but boost her pay by more than $20,000.
"It was a personal goal I always wanted to reach," said the 48-year-old mother of four who has seen her own kids finish college during the 18 years she has worked as an educational assistant for special-needs children.
"They've grown up and now it's the chance for me," she said. "I thought this was a great opportunity."
What Naeole and 14 other graduates did was continue to work during the day, then attend three hours of evening classes twice a week at Leeward as part of a special partnership between the community college and the Department of Education. With two-thirds of their tuition paid by the department, the new graduates found that continuing their education had become possible.
"I'm going to continue for two more years and get my bachelor's degree," said Naeole. "The DOE is sponsoring it, so another door has opened. Professionally I'm growing and learning more."
Educational assistants — para-professionals who assist classroom teachers — are offered a number of pathways to improve their credentials, including taking an examination, but some, like Naeole, have chosen to go on and get a teaching credential. Leeward Community College's program is opening a door to make that happen, as are programs at Chaminade University of Ho-nolulu and City University of Bellevue, Wash., that offer bachelor's degrees in special education with DOE financial assistance.
While the first group of 15 graduated in May from Leeward, 44 more candidates are at other strategic points along the way in the program, which expects to see a constant flow of graduates.
"The DOE has been recruiting their own employees," said Judy Kappenberg, program officer at Leeward. "One of the neat things is they are recruiting people from the communities where there's high turnover (of teaching staff). The whole idea of the program is to encourage these educational assistants to work toward bachelor's degrees and become teachers themselves. The long-range goal is to provide the incentive and support for their employees to become teachers."
Approximately 93 percent of the Department of Education's 2,500 educational assistants have received the higher certification required by No Child Left Behind, through one of the pathways offered, said Dale Asami, a DOE personnel specialist. But Asami said these special programs have a dual purpose.
"Not only do we get highly qualified educational assistants, but we're also looking at it to increase the flow of special education teachers," said Asami.
"All the courses are offered in the evening, because the people can't afford to quit their jobs."
It has been a challenge, said Naeole, especially working a full day and then going to class two nights a week. But, she said, it has been worth it.
"Because of my experiences I've been doing the job of a teacher, so why not go after the pay?" she said. "But what it really comes down to is I gain for my professional growth."
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.