After Jessica Tillman finished filling out forms at the Wakulla County School District's human resources department last week, she got her first assignment -- head immediately to Riversink Elementary – where she was paired with third grade lead teacher, Sharon Bowman.
"I feel both excited and honored to be a part of Wakulla County Schools as an Associate Teacher," Tillman said. "Wakulla County has an impressive reputation and this opportunity to serve cooperatively with another teacher will enhance education for the students, as well as help me grow as an educator.”
Tillman is part of a newly minted concept -- associate teachers who will work under the direction of a lead teacher. Four other Associate Teachers were hired at the same time; Laura Braley at Shadeville, Bethany Evans at Wakulla Middle School and Courtney Horner and Tiffany Spears also at Riversink Elementary. All of the Associate Teachers are excited and are looking forward to the opportunity.
Lead-associate teachers are one of the school district's way of meeting the voter-mandated class-size amendment that requires lowering the number of students in each classroom. Associates come into a classroom when the number of students exceeds limits set by the amendments.
When voters passed the amendment, times were good. Now the state and its schools are facing tough financial times and districts are scrambling to fund the new requirement.
The lead-associate concept is appealing, in part, because it saves money. Associate teachers will be paid $24,000 a year to start as compared to the first year teacher salary in Wakulla County of $33,700.
The concept is also an experiment that other school districts, such as Leon and St. John’s County, are doing in the state.
Superintendent David Miller has high hopes for the lead-associate teacher concept. Miller adds, “The main strength of the program is forging a strong, working relationship between the lead and associate teachers to make the learning experience better for the students.”
The first group of associate teachers hired are new to the profession. Superintendent Miller believes there's a benefit for associate teachers since they'll be getting to work with and learn from experienced lead teachers. "I appreciated the help of experienced teachers, but you had to seek it out," he said, recalling his own first days in the profession.
Although many credit assistant superintendent Jimmie Dugger with thinking outside the box to present the idea, he says it was more a group effort that came out of a meeting of the district's executive officials. Dugger does credit the teachers' union with making the idea work.
"They had some fears. But we assured them we were not going to replace regular class teachers with associates, and we came up with a memorandum of understanding. It's a very creative partnership. Our association with the union is probably one of the main reasons we're able to do it. They know we'll do it right," he said.
* 18 students in prekindergarten through grade 3;
* 22 students in grades 4 through 8; and
* 25 students in grades 9 through 12.
ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP:
Lead teachers are in charge and oversee classroom and paperwork.
Associates work in the same classroom with duties assigned by the lead teachers.
Associates may be required to grade papers, lead instruction and participate in parent conferences.
Associate teachers will work only 7.5 hours a day.
Associates are paid $24,000 but are full-time employees and receive benefits.
Both lead and associate teachers are certified.
So far 5 associates have been hired.
The associates are first-time teachers.
Associate teachers go into classrooms once class limits have been reached.
Another amendment is on the November ballot that would ease the strict classroom numbers. If that passes, associate teachers will keep their jobs through the school year.
Pictured L-R: Laura Braley, Courtney Horner, Jessica Tillman, Bethany Evans (Tiffany Spears – not pictured)