2 area school districts join in pilot program

The Future Teacher Fellows Program recently wrapped up its first semester with a group of seven students who had the opportunity to gain experience substitute teaching in a variety of classrooms. From left to right: Caitlin Stepanek, Zackary Wilson Miller, Cayla O’Connor and Program Coordinator Danielle Colterman. Missing from photo: Andrea Ashcroft, Trevor Dennis, David Kempf and Sarah Vivlamore. Photo Courtesy of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES

CANTON — Two local school districts have teamed up with the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and SUNY Potsdam to pilot a program that they say benefits all parties.

Norwood-Norfolk Central School and St. Lawrence Central School are taking part in the Future Teacher Fellows Program, which offers college students an opportunity to gain paid experience in the field of education.

“It’s fantastic. We have a need. All schools have a need to find qualified substitute teachers,” Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent James Cruikshank said. “Here, just a few miles down the road, we have a whole slew of people training to become teachers and need experience in the classroom.”

St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Robert Stewart said he attended a workshop in Albany and learned that another BOCES region was doing the program with six colleges and 18 school districts.

“They had built it up over time. I brought the idea back here,” he said.

Mr. Stewart said he met with Mr. Cruikshank and representatives from St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and SUNY Potsdam.

“We had an initial organizational meeting just to kick the idea around,” he said.

They discussed any potential drawbacks.

“There really weren’t any. It was all positive,” Mr. Stewart said. “We just needed to be organized and attempt it. It was a win-win for all involved.”

The schools entered into an agreement with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and SUNY Potsdam.

“BOCES can provide training and professional development for these young aspiring teachers,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “In doing so, we can also seek state aid on the cost of those substitutes. There’s a shared service mechanism for BOCES to provide professional development for substitutes. It’s not utilized much up here.”

He and Mr. Stewart said that, using the program, they’ve started to address the lack of substitute teachers. Norwood-Norfolk welcomed two new SUNY Potsdam students last week.

“We use them as a full-day substitute. They’re in for the whole day. They determine the days that they’re available,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “For example, if they’re available on Friday, they show up every Friday. We’re also filling these positions in a fiscally prudent manner.”

“We’re short substitutes on many days. This allows us to have an idea of guaranteed people coming in on certain days,” Mr. Stewart said.

For school districts, Mr. Cruikshank said it’s an opportunity to look at prospective teachers.

“They get to come into a system and develop relationships elbow-to-elbow with professionals. It’s good for schools because we get to fill our classrooms with students aspiring to be teachers and training to be teachers,” he said.

“The great thing at SUNY Potsdam is they can advertise it as a recruiting tool for their teacher education program. Our only hurdle is lining up the college class schedule with our needs as well,” Mr. Stewart said. “Right now we have two students that occupy four days a week. We have one fellow that comes in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another fellow just on Fridays. Last semester we had three of them that occupied five days a week.”

Future Teacher Fellows will be continuing in the spring. Candidates who are interested must be currently enrolled at SUNY Potsdam and complete an application to determine eligibility.

“Hopefully it works out and we can expand it,” Mr. Stewart said.

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