As the 2020-21 school year approaches, New Jersey continues to face significant challenges due to the ongoing global pandemic. The health and safety of our students and educators – and their families – is paramount, and we applaud the district and school leaders across the state working hard in ever-changing conditions to develop the best possible reopening strategies. We are proud to elevate the voices of our local and state leaders who are addressing these challenges as well as pursuing innovation and flexibility to meet student and teacher needs in the upcoming school year.
Last week, we published Re-imagining the Educator Workforce of the Future: Policy Questions and Recommendations, Part Two of our Educator Workforce Series. This report is based on interviews we conducted with leaders of New Jersey school districts, educator preparation programs and higher education institutions in addition to state and national education thought leaders. Through our conversations, we explored the most pressing issues facing our educator workforce as we respond to – and eventually recover from – the impact of COVID-19 on our schools.
We learned that no matter what school reopening plans look like, the digital infrastructure of our education system must be improved. Access to devices and the internet is the first step, so our report calls for the state to build on Governor Murphy’s July 2020 plan to address the state’s digital divide and ensure all of our students and teachers have access to reliable devices and connections.
We also know that educators are essential workers and need professional support as well as childcare as they prepare to instruct students again. Our report focuses on the new kinds of support and professional development teachers need for both virtual and brick and mortar school settings as well as some of the budget and labor issues that impact teachers during this challenging time.
Finally, local, state and national leaders interviewed for our report pushed us to think outside the box and consider more innovative approaches to teaching and staffing. Our report suggests some of these approaches, including:
- A competitive grant program to spur the expansion of student-centered, educator-led innovations;
- A teacher apprenticeship program as an on-ramp for future teachers to earn as they learn and for current non-certified staff such as paraprofessionals; and
- Regional master classes that share staffing for high-level, low enrollment coursework, which could allow for college professors or industry professionals to partner with high school teachers to deliver content.
At JerseyCAN, we know that our educators are the front line to New Jersey students and families. We hope our report will help to seed the ideas of the future and so that our teachers and school leaders have the support they need to help all students thrive in our changing world.