LEWISTON, Maine — A new, free program aimed at addressing the educator workforce shortage is gaining interest among school districts.
Districts across the state still have handfuls of open positions for education technicians, people who work one-on-one, or in small groups, with kids who need extra attention for learning challenges.
In Lewiston, the district is looking for 90 ed techs.
"For a student who is learning-disabled, or has a physical disability that can limit their interaction to access school," Lewiston Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais, said. "This is the person that allows them to access their learning."
Students with learning challenges typically get an IEP: an individualized education plan. Teachers at Connors Elementary said for students on IEPs, almost all of their plans recommend one-on-one attention from an ed tech.
Teachers said more than half of those students at Connors do not get that level of attention because the school simply does not have the staff.
"How can we get more people into this realm so they can realize, 'Oh my gosh, I love this work?'" Langlais said.
Langlais and his team proposed the idea of the "Educator Pathway Program" to leadership at Central Maine Community College. The program uses money from the Maine Workforce Development Compact, a branch of the Harold Alfond Center for Workforce Development.
The program is free for any district employee. It includes courses required for certification by the Maine Department of Education to work as an ed tech or certified professional educator, such as a classroom lead teacher.
"It's the first time we've done it this way. It really unlocks a lot of doors," Langlais said. "Even a custodian, if they have some college experience, and they just love working around the kids and want to work in a different capacity, this program would be available to them in their advancement."
CMCC Dean of Workforce Development Dr. Dwayne Conway said districts including Auburn, Turner, and Oxford Hills have also expressed interest in the program.
"There's no silver bullet," Conway said. "Hopefully it will continue on for years and have a positive impact."
Conway, a former social studies teacher and principal at Maranacook Community High School, called ed techs "as frontline as you can get."
"They build positive relationships with students and that's half the battle," Conway said. "[They're] helping people see beyond their current reality, which is, I think, just priceless for students to realize they can do anything they put their mind to."
"I can't pass up this opportunity to move on with my education," Carter Handy, an ed tech at Connors Elementary, said.
Handy is a Lewiston native who went to Montello Elementary. He has been working in the district for 11 years. He is using the program to become a classroom teacher.
"I have always, always wanted to do it," Handy said. "Knowing that I can change a life is a big key."
Handy knows the impact an ed tech can have on a child with a learning challenge. He was diagnosed with a learning disability in elementary school, and worked with an ed tech from kindergarten through sixth grade.
"I was in their shoes in elementary school. Just watching them grow is a good thing," Handy said. "Maybe they won't care, [or] know, but knowing that I can help them is the key."
Handy's father became an ed tech for the district in 2021.