PORTLAND, Texas — Kaylei Smith has her Associate’s Degree in Business Administration, but had to stop going to school when she learned she was pregnant. After her son was born, Smith attempted to go back to school.
“I knew it wasn’t time for me to go back, because I was falling behind. I couldn’t handle the work and a newborn child,” she said.
Smith returned to work at the school district she graduated from, the Gregory-Portland Independent School District.
She worked as a substitute teacher, and last school year was an aide for the special education department.
In January, GPISD partnered with Hartwell University — an online university —to offer district employees the opportunity to earn a teaching certificate or degree.
“We’ve got para-professionals and other staff in our district who wanted to become teachers, but for whatever reason life has happened, and they were unable to do it,” said Brandon Chandler, the chief Human Resources officer for GPISD. “So I’m like, we have to partner with them, and offer this to our employees.”
The program gives a discount to district employees, only costing them $111 a month to take classes through Hartwell, and is available to full-time and part-time employees, as well as their family members.
“It was designed to assist, really, working moms in schools, to get their degree and teaching certification,” Chandler said.
“When I found out about this university, I was excited and thrilled. I messaged my husband right away, and I said, ‘we need to look into this tonight,’” Smith said. “I knew it was a sign from God, because I told my husband I wanted to go back to school, and we were trying to figure it out financially.”
Chandler said eight employees are currently enrolled in the program, with more expected to join in the fall.
GPISD doesn’t have any open teaching positions currently, but Chandler hopes if spots open up, the district can fill those positions with employees who already have experience in the area.
“The goal is to create a pipeline,” he said. “As our teachers retire, or move, relocate, for whatever reason, that we do have a pipeline of teachers that can step in that have been trained in our district, and are familiar with our community.”
The added benefit of taking classes is Smith can apply the lessons she’s learning in the classroom.
“I’ve also taken things I’ve learned, and applied them to teaching and helping my teachers,” she said.
The program can take employees up to four years to complete, but Smith hopes to have her degree by the spring of 2024.