Lafayette schools look to hospital employees as potential teachers

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish School System human resources director Bruce Leininger speaks to a group of University Medical Center employees Thursday about the public school system, which as partnered with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, UMC and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to help hospital employees who face layoffs transition to a new career in the classroom.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish School System human resources director Bruce Leininger speaks to a group of University Medical Center employees Thursday about the public school system, which as partnered with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, UMC and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to help hospital employees who face layoffs transition to a new career in the classroom.

Teacher recruitment for the Lafayette Parish school system is under way in an unexpected though relevant training ground: a local hospital.

“If you’re a nurse, you’ve got to be good in math and science,” said Bruce Leininger, school system human resources director.

The focus of the recruitment is University Medical Center, where employees will be laid off and required to reapply for their jobs in late June when an partnership with Lafayette General Medical Center begins.

Employees with at least a bachelor’s degree could become classroom teachers within a year through an accelerated alternative certification program developed by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

On Thursday, eight UMC employees met with Leininger, university officials and Bill Rodier, Louisiana Workforce Commission regional business relations coordinator, about the teaching opportunity.

Funding may be available to help the employees pay for their classes, Rodier said.

“We’re working on a plan to fund the educational training into the new career,” he said.

The employees also may qualify for financial aid through federal grant programs, such as a Perkins loan, which offers loan forgiveness for teachers who work at high-poverty schools for at least five years.

While there’s an option for UMC employees to reapply and continue working at the hospital, some are seeking other options either for a new career or to ensure they don’t lose the time they’ve built into the state retirement system.

“I’ve been with the state 19 years,” said Anastasia Jones, an assistant admissions manager at UMC. “I’m being laid off effective June 24 and would be eligible for retirement July 14. I don’t want to lose all that time.”

This isn’t the first time Jones has considered a career in education. About 10 years ago, she said, she was laid off from another state agency and considered a career change then.

Sheila Charles would have been eligible for retirement Aug. 15, her 20th year working for the state, she said.

Charles, an administrative coordinator for credentials, holds a master’s degree in business administration and would like to teach English and reading to older elementary school students in grades four and up.

Her retirement is one of the factors that led to her decision, but she said she was more attracted to the opportunity to start a new career outside of health care.

“The opportunity itself was presented to build a career, not just find a job,” Charles said. “It’s just an awesome opportunity.”

Neither Charles nor Jones planned to reapply for their jobs; however, at least two nurses at the meeting said they planned to reapply and continue working as they attend classes at the university.

Alternative certification programs offer a training pathway for people who already hold at least a bachelor’s degree in another field.

Typically, the alternative programs take up to two years to complete.

“If those workers would begin by summer 2013, they would have certification by summer 2014,” said Peter Sheppard, an associate professor of math education, who devised the accelerated program.

The district has difficulty filling science, math and special-education positions, Leininger said.

Leininger asked the small group how many were interested in special education.

Four of the eight employees raised their hands.

“You know, that’s four times more than the graduating class at LSU this spring,” Leininger told them.

The program targets middle-school math and science education and special education, Sheppard said.

While those three disciplines are high-need areas for the school district, they also complement the skill set for the hospital employees.

“Those people have a love of math and science,” he said. “They also have a genuine interest in the livelihood of people. That type of disposition transfers easily into the classroom.”

The alternative certification program classes would be built around employees’ schedules with courses likely starting in June at the hospital or held in the evenings to fit their work schedules, Sheppard said.

On Thursday, employees received information on financial aid, the university admissions process and tips on taking the Praxis test, a standardized teacher certification test.

UMC employees have been receiving other assistance to prepare for the change at the hospital.

UMC administrator Glenn Craig said the Louisiana Workforce Commission has offered workshops for employees on interview and ré sumé- writing skills.

Craig said about 700 employees work at the hospital and all will have the opportunity to reapply for their jobs.

He said discussions are still under way with Lafayette General on positions available.

“My understanding is their plan is to hire as many people as they can,” Craig said.

Leininger said the school system will hold a job fair at the hospital April 11 for interested employees.

“We’re helping you and you’re helping us,” he told the group.