State School Superintendent celebrates new educator development programs, plans to address teacher retention rate | Sitting Bull College

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State School Superintendent celebrates new educator development programs, plans to address teacher retention rate

Posted: Tuesday, 20 February 2024
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Sitting Bull College will offer teacher instruction for early childhood and elementary education

A chronic teacher shortage has plagued North Dakota’s Native communities for generations. But a new Senate bill and a grant from the U.S. Labor Department may hold the key to helping to turn that around while increasing Indigenous representation in the state’s classrooms.

State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler celebrated North Dakota’s new educator development programs, which Gov. Doug Burgum referred to during his State of the State address at Dickinson State University on Jan. 24.

“North Dakota has been leading the way to find solutions to a teacher shortage that exists in our state and across the country,” Baesler said. “One of our strategies is to increase the number of teachers who are being trained in their own communities.”

Senate Bill 2032, which was approved by the state House and Senate in January 2023, will pay for the training of about 260 paraprofessionals to become certified teachers in the next two years. Ten higher education providers, including six schools in North Dakota’s university system, have been approved to offer the instruction.

SB 2032 is an act providing $3 million to North Dakota’s Department of Public Instruction to provide grants to accredited institutions for programs and other administrative costs. Up to $20,000 can be approved by the department. Part of this money will be used for the 600 teachers who will be trained. Leftover funds will be used for student tuition and scholarships.

Burgum’s two-hour-long State of the State speech discussed several education topics, including career and technical education, computer science and cybersecurity, an ongoing interim legislative study on school choice issues, the NDDPI’s Teacher of the Year program, a task force the governor recently appointed to study teacher recruitment and retention and his planned Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education, scheduled for June 17 in Bismarck.

Sitting Bull College, located in Fort Yates, is one of the six schools approved to offer instruction, and will focus on training early childhood and elementary education teachers. Chris Fried, the Division of Education Director at the tribal college, recalled how his department applied to be considered for this program. 

The college’s education program, which consists of 30 undergraduate and graduate students, is taught in a hybrid online/in-person format. Fried said the education program tries to cater to working students, who are working as paraprofessionals in tribal schools.

“The bill is used to help paraprofessionals to transition into teaching positions and provide coursework to do that,” said Fried. “So that’s kind of the natural fit for our program right now. When we saw this bill come out we thought the state would help us in funding paras to complete their teaching degrees.”

Money from federal COVID-19 pandemic relief, along with $3 million provided by the North Dakota Legislature and a $4.1 million U.S. Labor Department grant, will be used to train about 600 new certified teachers within the next two years, Baesler said.

American Indians make up 10% of the state’s student population, according to North Dakota Insights. Though Native students are North Dakota’s biggest minority population, American Indian educators only represent a fraction of that number. There are  226 American Indian teachers in the state compared to a total of  9,385 teachers in North Dakota.

According to a 2022 Native American Needs Assessment Survey by the Department of Public Instruction, about 91% of administrators are concerned about recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers in their schools and districts. Only 32% of schools, however, have a specific program for recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.

Fried said he hopes this program will help address the teaching shortage by enlisting the help of paraprofessionals who are already familiar with the schools they work with. “Our tribal schools on reservations are experiencing a teacher shortage,” said Fried. “Especially in rural areas, they’re struggling to get teachers in those schools. But this program would give paras, particularly those who are already working in our tribal schools, the opportunity to come to a tribal college [for their degree and certification].”

The U.S. Labor Department grant will pay for teacher apprenticeships. According to the press release, participating teachers’ aides can get tuition assistance and pay for teaching and job training while they work to get the academic credentials they need to qualify as classroom teachers. The first round of apprenticeship grants distributed $855,000 to four education providers.

The Labor Department has also designated North Dakota as the first state with a principal apprenticeship program, which provides tuition assistance for educators who want to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership. This program is needed to be credentialed as a North Dakota school principal. 

American Indians make up two out of every 100 principals in the state, according to a 2021 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Around 73% of principals’ highest education is a master’s degree. In the same study, 42% of principals state that they don’t have as much enthusiasm as when they first started the job. Another 22% of participants in the study stated they would leave immediately for a higher-paying position if it were offered. 

According to the press release, NDDPI has awarded North Dakota State University a $150,000 competitive grant to defray tuition costs for apprentice principals. Currently, there are 11 apprentices so far from the Fargo, Central Cass and Wahpeton school districts, Baesler said.

Sourcing & Methodology Statement:

Itd. (n.d.). North Dakota Enrollment by Demographics. ND Insights.

Itd. (n.d.-b). North Dakota Staff Details. ND Insights.

NTPS State Dashboard, 2020–21 |. National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.).

 Native American needs assessment survey results - administrators. North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.-b).

Public education in North Dakota. Ballotpedia. (n.d.).

State programs. North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.-c).