A photo of an empty elementary school classroomPutting more special-education teachers in classrooms is a goal of a new partnership between Sac State and the Elk Grove school district.

It’s no secret that California faces a shortage of classroom teachers, and the situation is especially dire when it comes to special-education teachers.

To help ease the shortage, Sacramento State and the Elk Grove Unified School District have begun a partnership aimed at getting more credentialed special-education teachers into district classrooms, the latest example of how the University is working with local districts and the community to address this critical statewide issue.

Through the partnership, 20 Elk Grove district non-teaching – or classified – employees will earn their Education Specialist: Mild/Moderate and Multiple Subject teaching credentials through Sacramento State, in classes taught on site at Elk Grove schools.

The program is funded through a California Commission on Teacher Credentialing grant awarded to the district and providing each employee $4,000 annually for three years, matched by the district, to defray costs. The Fall 2017 semester was the first for the cohort, with classes held online. The remaining semesters will be taught locally.

“There is a huge need for special-education teachers,” said Shelly Clark, director of personnel development with the Elk Grove Unified School District. “There are more high-need classes than ever before. We just don’t have the number of graduates coming out of the university system to fill the spots that we have.”

Sacramento State was a natural partner for the project, Clark said, not just because of proximity but because current special-education teachers give the University’s credential program high marks.

“Our first-year teachers do better when they come out of Sac State,” she said.

The University typically admits about 20 to 25 students into its special-education programs each year, said Teaching Credentials Chair Stephanie Biagetti. But thanks to the partnership with the Elk Grove district, as well as a separate collaboration with the Sacramento City Unified School District, that number tripled this fall.

“The teacher shortage is most acute in special education, so not only does this collaboration help us in terms of getting more students into our program, but it also benefits the surrounding community by getting more highly trained teachers into the classroom,” Biagetti said.

For district employees such as Sara Boomgaarden ’15 (Anthropology), a Sacramento State alumna currently working as a paraeducator, the partnership provides an opportunity possibly unavailable otherwise. Without financial assistance and the convenience of Sacramento State faculty traveling to Elk Grove classes, she said, it’s unlikely she would have been able to pursue a career as a teacher. It’s a goal that is highly personal; Boomgaarden’s younger brother was diagnosed with autism – but not until he was 19 years old.

“I’m trying to be that person that my brother never had, and that I desperately wish he did have growing up as a kid,” she said. “I have the opportunity to do that now, to be an advocate for these kids, and that’s really awesome.”

To learn more, visit the teaching credentialing program page on the Sacramento State website. – Jonathan Morales