Several years ago, the leaders at the Georgia Charter School Association noticed an ongoing problem in their member schools. Teachers hired by and working in charter schools who were seeking their Georgia teaching certificate had to leave their jobs to complete their one-year practicum in a regular public school.
To tackle the issue, the GCSA decided to do something no other state charter school association is doing—they created their own teacher certification program specifically tailored to the needs of charter school teachers.
Of course, the change didn’t happen overnight. It took two years for the group to receive approval from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which grants approval to organizations to certify teachers. (Many such certification programs are run by higher education institutions.) And it is currently the only regionally non-accredited organization to be approved to operate a GaTAPP program, the state’s teacher certification process.
The GCSA has since graduated two cohorts (25 and 35 students respectively) of teachers and is now soliciting applications for their 2013-14 term.
“This is the only one we’ve seen of its kind, and we’re very excited about it,” says Juli Sergi, GCSA’s director of alternate certification, who runs the program.
The one-year program targets adults who are hoping to make a career change and become a teacher, she says, although the GCSA has also opened a pre GaTAPP program for teacher candidates who may need more support before entering the official GaTAPP certification program.
Sergi says one aspect of the certification that differentiates it from traditional teacher certification programs is that it is flexible and tailored to each individual teacher candidate. “We’re a lot more flexible in the portfolio creation because we know that what charters are doing is going to look very different from charter school to charter school,” she says. There is greater variation in curriculum and instructional techniques from one charter to another than between two different regular public schools, she contends.
The program also operates through a blended model, where teacher candidates meet face-to-face and engage in online learning to complete their certification. The model offers flexibility for adults with families and work schedules to work around, says Sergi.
In Georgia, teachers may be hired under a nonrenewable contract by a school before becoming certified as long as they pass certain licensings tests. (What tests they are required to pass differs depending on what kind of teacher they are aiming to be.) Once hired, non-certified teachers are required to enroll in a certification program, like the one at GCSA.
The program’s creation has brought more awareness about the nuances of the charter school environment to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, says Sergi, which she says has helped strengthen the partnership between that organization and charter schools in general.