Mat-Su school district shapes future teachers with new high school graduate program

Participants who work for the district for 5 years after they graduate will get a 100% reimbursement on tuition costs
Participants who work for the district for 5 years after they graduate will get a 100% reimbursement on tuition costs
Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 7:22 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - A shortage of teachers has been plaguing school districts nationwide, and Alaska is no exception.

That’s why Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani came up with a solution that could help alleviate the problem while helping new college students pay for school.

“1,500 graduate a year,” Trani said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get say 2% of those a year — or 5% of those a year — to be teachers here in Alaska?”

The MSBSD Teacher Scholarship Loan with Chadron State College program — informally called “Grow Our Own” — enrolls recently graduated high school students into an online college, as well as places them with part-time jobs in Mat-Su schools. The high school graduates, like Rueben Feaster, are called paraprofessionals.

“It sounded way too good to be true,” Feaster admitted. “Having all my tuition and fees paid off just sounds, like, out of this world.”

Feaster graduated from Mat-Su Middle College earlier this year. He said he’s known he’s wanted to be a teacher since 10th grade after helping his friends with algebra homework. Feaster was born and raised in Alaska and grew up in the Butte. His part-time job placement is at Butte Elementary School.

“I’m able to teach with my old second-grade teacher which is super fun,” Feaster said.

Successful graduates of Chadron’s program will then be able to apply for employment at the school district. If hired, their tuition will be fully repaid after five years of service with MSBSD. According to Trani, the district has to hire between 100-150 teachers every year, so their odds of landing a job are high.

”We’re constantly on this treadmill of hiring new people, so if we hired our own resident Alaskans wouldn’t that be better,” Trani said.

Hannah Brooke is another paraprofessional that is currently enrolled in the incentive program. After her original college plans fell through, she was going to take a gap year but heard about the opportunity and decided to apply. She also thought it was too good to be true.

“I applied anyway and I got accepted,” Brooke said. “And I’m here doing what I wanted to do.”

Brooke works five days a week at Finger Lake Elementary. She originally had planned on teaching high school science, but after working with kindergarteners she might have a change of heart.

“It’s so fun, they’re so cute,” Brooke admitted. “They’re so positive and happy.”

The paid part-time job placements at the schools allow paraprofessionals to get hands-on experience in the field, while the online classes offer them a flexible way to earn their degrees and cut down on overhead costs like parking permits, dorm rooms, and meal plans.

The Mat-Su school district operates 48 schools with approximately 1,200 teachers. The turnover rate for Valley teachers is relatively low in comparison to rural areas, but Trani thinks this program is an integral tool for securing long-term future teachers.

“It costs about $25,000 to hire an employee from out of state,” Trani said. “The probable costs that we’ll have from a student going through the Chadron State program — and then working for us for five years — we’ll actually be money ahead at the end. Especially if we can get that person to stay until they retire.”