Warren County Public Schools has approved a “Grow Your Own” Memorandum of Understanding in cooperation with James Madison University and Laurel Ridge Community College.

The program, which the School Board approved at its Aug. 17 work session, will allow any paraprofessional currently employed with the school division who expresses interest in becoming licensed in special education, elementary education or pre-school/early childhood education to do so through the program.

The initiative, said Director of Personnel Shane Goodwin, supports the school division’s mission of “providing every student in our community with the very best teacher.”

This would be a pathway to licensure for them, he told the board.

Since there aren’t as many teachers available for the school division to hire, he told the board members that the Grow Your Own program provides a great opportunity for attracting and keeping teachers through continuing education efforts.

“Every community is working on a grow-your-own,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, it’s a great opportunity for our employees and also a great opportunity for our children.”

As of August, there were 14 school division employees ready to begin at Laurel Ridge and six at JMU, he told the board.

JMU is the carrier of the grant funding, Goodwin explained, so the university will reimburse Laurel Ridge for any expenses and fees the community college incurs through the program.

To pay back the loan, program participants need to commit to working with the school division where they currently work for at least two years, he said.

They also need to earn a C grade or better, or they’ll need to retake the course at their own expense, Goodwin said.

If, after receiving their licensure, they want to continue in the JMU Grow Your Own program, they will need to meet the school’s requirements, he said, since admission to JMU is not guaranteed.

The MOU is contingent upon JMU’s receipt of sufficient state budget appropriations for the Grow Your Own program, a School Board work session document explains. The MOU term is Aug. 15, 2022, to Aug. 14, 2023.

Speaking during a public comment session, Lori Athey Cockrall, a Warren County educator for 33 years, called it a wonderful opportunity.

“I have worked with instructional assistants, paraprofessionals that absolutely could do my job,” Cockrall said.

“It’s almost like hands-on watching as you go,” she said. “I’ve encouraged some of our paraprofessionals who have gone on to get their degree. … Sometimes it just takes a little bit of encouragement. But financially, this would be a huge thing.”

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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