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Schools face hurdles in hiring experts

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If Franklin students want to learn about engineering, they would benefit from getting their lessons from someone who has worked in the field.

Franklin Community High Schoool Principal Doug Harter wants his 1,700 students to start preparing earlier for careers in engineering, computer programing or other professions that require strong math and science skills.

To do that, he wants professionals who have worked in the fields to start teaching students and to train teachers the skills that are expected in these careers.

The problem: Most experts in engineering, computer science, chemistry and other fields often stay in the private sector, which pays more than public education.

So Harter and other local schools struggle to get those professionals into their classrooms.

If engineers or programmers decide to leave their specific field and start teaching, they can receive a temporary teaching license that is good for up to three years.

But by the end of those three years they need to complete education certifications designed to teach them how to run a classroom, and those can take up to a year to earn, Harter said.

Ask the experts

Here’s a look at some of the professional-run courses being offered at high schools. Those who teach the courses have had either advanced training in or experience working in these fields:

Pre-engineering courses: Offered by Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Greenwood schools

The point of these courses: To give students who have taken advanced math and science courses the chance to get hands-on experience, similar to the kind they would receive in college or at a job

Other fields: Central Nine Career Center offers courses in health care, advanced manufacturing, automotive mechanics and fire fighting by teachers with experience in each field.

State officials are considering updating Indiana’s teaching standards so that a prospective teacher with experience in another profession could receive a teaching license by passing a test instead of completing college coursework.

A decision on whether the standards are changed could come later this year.

Updating Indiana’s teaching standards could make it easier for Harter and other principals to find teachers with real-world experience for their classrooms. But Harter doesn’t believe engineers or computer science experts can prove they’re prepared to manage a classroom filled with 20 teenagers just by passing a test.

“They’re trying to make it easier for people from outside the classroom to come inside the classroom and teach,” Harter said. “We all know that somebody who has a lot of content knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate so that they can teach it.”

Schools have been working to find teachers with more experience or training in fields such as health care, engineering and computer science. Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood school districts all have added or made plans to add a pre-engineering course at their high schools, and this year Central Nine Career Center officials are meeting with local businesses so that students can have more chances for training, job shadowing and internships.

Harter wanted to create a similar pre-engineering course at Franklin this school year but couldn’t find a teacher who had received two necessary weeks of engineering training at Purdue University to lead the course.

He is looking again for next school year. He’s also applying for a program that would help the high school find a computer science professional to lead information technology lessons. The program is funded through Microsoft and would provide a local expert who would help teach students in the high school’s computer science courses and train teachers for two years about the industry’s standards.

“The whole idea is to bridge the gap between the number of computer science jobs that are out there, and the lack of college graduates in computer science. And obviously they feel if they start at the high school level, we’ll have more graduates who can fill those jobs,” Harter said.

He doesn’t know yet whether Franklin has been accepted into the program, and even if it is there’s no guarantee it will be able to partner with a local computer science expert.

School districts must provide a stipend for professionals who come in, and because of budget cuts Franklin might not be able to cover the cost, Harter said.

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