- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Employees in the Harrison County School District are choosing to be lifelong learners through continuing education, remaining up-to-date on the newest information, technology and instructional strategies.

All teachers in the county enroll in additional degree programs or take college courses to renew their teaching or professional certificates, according to Donna Hage, assistant superintendent of personnel.

“Our teachers dedicate hundreds of hours in the evenings, summer months and during breaks in the calendar in order to better their knowledge base,” she said.

Hage said all 968 professional and 523 service employees are required to annually complete 18 hours of continuing education per school year to fulfill their contracts. These hours are offered during their work days, which are built into the calendar and required by state policy.

Since the passing of Senate Bill 359, effective July 1, 2014, Hage said pre-K and kindergarten aides have to complete three semesters of courses - taking a year and a half to complete. This is to fulfill a requirement for early childhood classroom assistant teachers, she said.

Being a part of the courses for early childhood, she was able to provide excess support and information needed to help meet the different needs of the children in Harrison County, according to Kristina Riffle, an early childhood classroom assistant teacher at Johnson.

“I took the courses after school; after having a regular day, we would do it on our own time,” she said. “We worked on projects, classroom examples and developmentally appropriate practices like language and literacy.”

Riffle said continuing education provides opportunities in the classroom to help students the best that they can.

Service personnel are the aides taking additional training hours to become autism mentors, Hage said.

“This is an area of increasing need in schools in Harrison County, particularly in the past five to 10 years,” she said. “So many of our employees are dedicating time to expand their knowledge and understanding in order to serve our students’ needs.”

While the West Virginia Department of Education does offer tuition reimbursement, it is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, Hage said. The Harrison County School System offers tuition reimbursement if the state department has exhausted its funds.

“This reimbursement from the county is offered to those who are seeking degrees in areas identified by our board of education as shortage or critical need and by local initiatives and goals,” she said. “These have been areas like Title I reading, special education, science and math.”

All professional and service employees can be considered for pay raises for hours completed for college credit, she said.

Tiffany Hoskins, a sign language interpreter for the county, said she will participate in continued hours of training Jan. 3 in order to maintain her skills in visual phonics.

“It helps the students in the county that are deaf, but can visually see the sound,” she said. “As a school employee in Harrison County, we have to maintain 18 hours each year, and this will be a six-hour training for us.”

With four sign language interpreters and two teachers in the county, Hoskins said it is important to keep up with their skills.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it. We want to be able to help students from the elementary to high school level,” she said. “There are new things that come out every year and when they do the continued education classes, we are able to keep up with the new findings in technology and information so we can help to benefit the children of the county. That’s what is important.”

The number of teachers who decide to stop at a bachelor’s degree is shrinking each year, Hage said.

“Teaching is such an honorable profession for so many reasons, this being one of them with the constant sacrifice of time and personal expense to continually challenge and better their knowledge base,” Hage said. “It’s such a commitment.”

Hage said the employees of Harrison County are at a great advantage to have a superintendent and board that encourages and supports continuing their education.

“I believe that our employees have a sincere love of learning and desire to do the best they can, in whatever capacity, to be prepared to meet the ever-changing needs of students and continuing education is one very beneficial way to do that,” she said.

“One of the greatest impacts of those employees who continue their education is that they share their knowledge with colleagues,” Hage added. “We become stronger in leadership among employees, knowledge-base, support systems, confidence and morale.”


Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com

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