SCCC aligns with USD 480 to put teachers in classrooms

LIBERAL, Kan.  — USD 480 Superintendent of Schools Dr. Todd Carter knew the district was in a pickle when he counted the number of interim teachers leading classrooms across Liberal’s elementary, middle, and high schools.

“Eighty long-term substitute teachers is just a lot,” he said, recalling the start of the 2022-23 school year. “It’s about 20 percent of our teaching staff.” Like its peer communities in Garden City and Dodge City, Liberal schools survived the pandemic and population changes without greater attrition rates, “but replacing the 20 or so teachers we would typically lose every year — that’s the problem,” Carter said. “It’s a snowball effect.”

The solution, it turned out, was right at home in the community: working with Seward County Community College, the school district turned its attention to a “grow your own educator” approach. “It’s a hidden strength and a long-term solution,” he said. “We have a lot of people here who already have a life in Liberal, and see themselves as members of the community. Now we just need to help them get onto the pathway to becoming a teacher.”

Elements of such a pathway were already in place thanks to SCCC’s many articulation agreements with four-year colleges and state universities. The introduction of the K-Step Up program offered by Kansas State University garnered intense interest and drew more than 40 nontraditional students into the fold.

Lyn Day, a veteran USD 480 teacher and instructional coach, spent the last two years of her career as the K-Step Up coordinator. The fledgling program was “really close to my heart,” said Day, who began her own journey to teaching as a classroom paraprofessional in 1995. 

“I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until I started working with the district,” she recalled. “Back then, virtual classes to complete a college degree were just a rough idea, and I had to drive to Moscow to access the Internet lines.” Day completed more coursework through SCCC and Fort Hays State University, completed student teaching and earned her bachelor’s degree in 2001.

it really requires a community to help develop a teacher.

Lyn Day

Two decades later, Day said “that vision of growing our own has become really important. Over the past 10 years, I saw more and more of how the teacher shortage was impacting our schools.” By 2020, Day began to notice the influx of interim teachers had created a cascade of additional demands on experienced teachers, instructional coaches, and mentors,

Portrait of woman smiling

Lyn Day

“Some interims might have not been in a classroom since they graduated high school. They come in a little bit without the pedagogy skills. Some of them are naturals, and you think, ‘please, stay in the profession!’” For others, Day said, classroom management posed a challenge as did “the inner workings of the schools that can be tricky for people who come in and are not experienced with the importance of certain things happening throughout the day. That’s where we see that it really requires a community to help develop a teacher.”

Day praised USD 480 and SCCC for creating support structures to guide aspiring teachers through the maze.

Carter said that, thanks to the USD 480 school board, K-Step Up and similar programs offered by FHSU, Emporia State, Wichita State, and Newman University through SCCC, “any interim teachers or classified staff who want to pursue a degree can do so while they are still working for the district. They don’t have to leave Liberal to do that. That part of it is huge for us. They have a life here and have taken steps to experience what teaching is like, the ones that really enjoy that can move forward.”

Day said, “SCCC is a big part of that, getting them started, getting on the path. There’s a huge number of people enrolled at Seward, and that is a way we ‘re going to solve the problem of the teacher shortage.”


Categories: Alumni, Continuing Education, Humanities Division, Our Community

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