San Jose schools' program aims to meet demand of special education needs

School districts around the country and in the Bay Area face an ongoing problem surrounding the increasing needs surrounding special education students.

South Bay leaders say there simply aren't enough trained special education teachers to meet the demand and not they're implementing a new program to address that issue.

"We decided to build our own special education teacher pipeline from our employees," said Jacqueline Murphy, Director of Human Resources at San Jose Unified School District.

San Jose Unified's new program being implemented this fall is called "Rise into Special Education." 

The new grant-funded training offers the district's current instructional associates a chance to get their special education credential at San Jose State University for free, something which would normally cost $20,000. Generally this program applies to entry level district employees who are supportive staff in the classroom, but are not yet credentialed teachers. 

"We pay all the tuition expenses, testing fees, we provide mentorship and support to help them pursue their dream of becoming a special education teacher," said Murphy.

In exchange, the educator commits to teaching four years at San Jose Unified, or face repaying a portion of the $20,000 if they leave before that time commitment is fulfilled.

San Jose Unified has about 30,000 students and 3,500 of them are eligible for special education services.

District officials said the number of students who qualify for those services continues to rise, along with the need for those specialized teachers, and this all despite an overall drop in enrollment.

"It's gone up for a couple reasons. One is we have more students qualifying for special education support. The other is we're seeing a decline in the number of individuals who are qualified to teach special education," said Murphy.

Amy Daddario spent 14 years as a special education teacher and will serve as a mentor in the new program.

"Even on those most challenging of days, working with these students and being part of their growth and development, it's an honor and a privilege like no other. It's really an opportunity to change lives on a daily basis," said Daddario.

Seven people are currently enrolled in this new special ed teacher training, and the program manager hopes that number will double by next fall.