This article was written by the News Editor and Partners of KRWG Public Media on October 11, 2021.
The number of educator vacancies has nearly doubled over the past year in New Mexico, and one of the largest areas in need of teachers is special education, according to the 2021 New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report released last week.
The School of Teacher Preparation, Administration and Leadership at New Mexico State University hopes to help fill some of those vacancies with students enrolled in its THRIVE Special Education Alternative Licensure Program, a post-baccalaureate, graduate-level teacher licensure pathway approved by the New Mexico Public Education Department.
According to the educator vacancy report, prepared by NMSU’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation & Policy Center, there are 291 special education teacher vacancies, which makes up 28 percent of the total teacher vacancies in the state. In total, New Mexico has 1,048 teacher vacancies, compared to 571 last year.
The THRIVE program focuses on recruiting and preparing highly-qualified individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field, are eligible for a New Mexico alternative licensure pathway, and are committed to teaching and living in New Mexico communities.
“Our THRIVE program looks to attract and prepare individuals who are invested personally and professionally in New Mexico communities, who will have a positive impact on the diverse social, cultural, emotional and intellectual growth of children and youth with whom they will work throughout their career,” said Rick Marlatt, interim director of the School of TPAL.
THRIVE program residents will collaborate with mentor teachers in Las Cruces Public Schools and the Gadsden Independent School District. The program consists of hybrid courses set in a mini-semester course schedule, in conjunction with on-site residencies with partnering schools to facilitate clinical experiences including coaching and mentoring. Residents will also benefit from guidance offered by NMSU’s clinical supervisors as they complete their special education licensure requirements in one year. Residents will also continue to receive mentorship from their cooperating teachers during their first year as a classroom teacher.
“Special education teachers are some of the hardest positions to fill,” said Mike Montoya, LCPS assistant superintendent for special student services. “We are hopeful through this program we can develop great teachers who will not only fill these positions, but also recognize that teaching is an art and a very rewarding profession.”
Those accepted into the THRIVE program will have the benefit of a scholarship that covers full tuition for their coursework and receive a $20,000 training allocation paid in monthly installments while they are students. Successful completion of the program results in guaranteed employment from the student’s participating district, and students must agree to a minimum of three years of employment with their cooperating district as a licensed special education teacher in K-12 schools, or agree to repay the funds received. THRIVE also provides a $5,000 stipend for mentor teachers in partnering districts.
Students may also choose to apply their earned credits towards a master’s degree in special education.
Marlatt said the THRIVE program application process was competitive, with more than 40 applicants applying for one of 15 funded residency slots. Residents have been selected, admitted to the NMSU Graduate School, and will begin their coursework and residencies later this month. Application reviews and interviews were also collaborative, with school districts and NMSU participating in the selections together.
“Project THRIVE allows us and our partnering districts to be intentional and innovative regarding who will become the next great cohort of new teachers in New Mexico, how their diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds can best service students, and which grade levels and classrooms are best served by new teachers’ experience and expertise,” Marlatt said.