District official says Aspen schools well prepared for new law on aides | AspenTimes.com

District official says Aspen schools well prepared for new law on aides

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A new federal law that could rob Colorado schools of veteran teachers’ aides won’t affect education in Aspen, local officials predict.

The legislation, the so-called No Child Left Behind Act, was enacted earlier this year. It was created to restructure many areas of public education, including funding, budget requirements and services for disabled students.

However, the act also aims to improve the quality of teachers and teachers’ aides ? more specifically, paraprofessionals ? who have a direct hand in daily instruction.

Paraprofessionals are school district employees who are not certified teachers but still work with students in a classroom environment. They perform a variety of tasks, from working with special needs children in an adapted class to tutoring students having trouble with their homework.

Under the new law, all parapros must fulfill one of three requirements beginning in 2006: obtain an associate’s degree, collect two years of college credit or pass a proficiency test approved by the state or individual school district.

A story in Sunday’s Denver Post warned the legislation could prove devastating for metropolitan schools ? especially those with limited budgets. Many Denver schools use part-time parapros in place of full-time teachers when salary money is scarce.

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But Joanne Ihrig, assistant superintendent of the Aspen School District, doesn’t foresee the legislation causing any staffing problems at local schools.

“I think, in actuality, most of our paraprofessionals even have teaching degrees,” she said.

Most of the district’s parapros work in unique areas such as special education, which have always required specific degrees, Ihrig said. Other district parapros include retired teachers or local residents with master’s degrees and a lot of spare time, she said.

But in other communities, many parapros are just volunteers from the surrounding area who might not have a specific degree but still enjoy working with children.

“They get people from the community, and a lot of those people are not well educated in the ‘traditional’ way,” Ihrig said.

But a degree isn’t the only resource for parapros on a job search, both in Denver and in Aspen.

Ihrig said the Aspen School District is working with regional school officials to develop a sort of entrance exam for prospective parapros, testing their general knowledge as well as their expertise in whatever field ? reading, science, etc. ? they would like to assist in the district.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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