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Newton school’s planning to use only ‘highly qualified’ paraprofessionals next year

Pictured are teachers and paraprofessionals from Berg Elementary School attending "Safety City" last year. Starting next school year, the district will change the standards for the hiring of paras.
Pictured are teachers and paraprofessionals from Berg Elementary School attending "Safety City" last year. Starting next school year, the district will change the standards for the hiring of paras.

Qualifications to become or remain a paraprofessional in the Newton Community School District will become more stringent starting next school year.

At Monday’s Newton Community School District’s Board of Education meeting, there will be discussion on the district’s plan to transition from a Title I Targeted Assistance Program to a school-wide assistance program.

The new measure would affect both Berg and Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools, which serve as the district’s K-3 buildings.

One aspect of the transition would be that any district employee who helps instruct students would have to be “highly qualified.” This includes the district’s paraprofessionals.

Basics and Beyond Principal Laura Selover, who also serves as the district human resources representative, explained one of the five measures a para would have to meet to be considered highly qualified.

Selover said employees can have associate degrees that pertain to education, achieve a silver certificates or higher in the National Career Readiness Test, take the Compass test — which is an untimed computerized test that helps evaluate skills for college placement — have a bachelor’s degree or earn a  paraeducator certification from an Iowa college or branch of the Area Education Agency.

Basics and Beyond Teacher Charlet Daft recently became certified to proctor the NCRC test.

According to Superintendent Bob Callaghan, last year, when the Iowa Board of Education implemented its Early Literacy Implementation program, this measure conflicted with portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the state’s new guidelines, the federal funds districts receive would become supplant (replacement) funds and not supplemental funds, which goes against the federal policy.

Section 1120a(b)  of the No Child Left Behind Act states: “A State educational agency or local educational agency shall use Federal funds received under this part only to supplement the funds that would, in the absence of such Federal funds, be made available from non-Federal sources for the education of pupils participating in programs assisted under this part, and not to supplant such funds.”

IDE representatives have said it is not a state mandate for schools to transition to a school-wide program, but an option that is available to them if they meet the qualifications.

“Various (districts) are in the planning process to go school-wide — it’s not just Newton — we have well over 200 that are already operating as school-wide,” Geri McMahon, IDE Title I Administrative Consultant/Migrant Director, said.   “This law has been around since [NCLB] was reauthorized in 2001 and we’ve had quite a few that have gone down this path before.”

McMahon also explained what qualifications a district must meet to implement the change and some of the benefits of going about it.

“You have to be at the 40 percent poverty rate before you can become a school-wide,” McMahon said. “The poverty rate in Iowa has increased quite a bit over the years, so more and more are deciding to (change) because more and more are eligible to.

“It provides a lot more flexibility for the school. When they go down the school-wide path, they are designing a program on how the increase the academic achievement of all kids and they are allowed to mix their Title I funds with their local and state funds,” she added. “There’s a lot more flexibility, they don’t have to just identify those kids who are the farthest away from the state standard and just focus on them, they can come up with a plan to raise the achievement level of them all.”

Callaghan commended Jim Gilbert, the district’s elementary educational services director, for helping spearhead Newton’s transition.

“We are ahead of the curve,” Callaghan said.

The district is still working on how the new practice would be implemented in the classroom next year, but echoed the state’s sentiments on it providing flexibility.

“We have yet to design how instruction is going to be delivered,” Gilbert said. “But, just from a general standpoint, it’s going to give us a lot more flexibility in terms of Title I teachers — and how they are utilized — and in terms of how para associates are utilized. They will be more instructionally focused. Paras, in other words, will take on more responsibilities.”

Under the district’s current practices, paras’ duties are described as being there “to assist the teacher and address teaching objectives by working with individual students or groups of students to help students work to achieve the maximum skill levels.”

Title I teachers are used to provide additional education assistance beyond the regular classroom for at-risk students in hopes that the student would eventually be able to test out of or forgo title services.

“I can simply tell you that I experienced this many years ago,” Callaghan, who has previous educational experience in Texas, said. “It’s going to be a big adjustment for the state of Iowa.”

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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