TEACH Dashboard Opens Portals of Communication, Streamlines Certification Efforts

By Tyler Dahlgren

Launched in 2019, the Nebraska Department of Education’s TEACH system has been continuously improved since its rollout. The certification system is advantageous for applicants and school leaders alike, and now houses a business partner portal for administrators to monitor the status of applicants at any time by simply logging in.

“The system gives access to district leaders to help remind their employees to register or renew their certificates,” said Brad Dirksen, Administrator-Office of Accountability, Accreditation and Program Approval with NDE. “It’s no longer one static list that we send out. Administrators can actually pull that list at any point in time to get an updated list of who’s expiring and who’s already renewed their certificates.”

Furthermore, TEACH (which stands for The Educator Application and Certification Hub) empowers applicants by allowing them access to deficiencies on their application status. Each applicant is assigned to one of the department’s certification analysts. Streamlining communication is effective in streamlining the entire process overall.

“Applicants have access to their analyst’s contact information and can directly communicate with the analyst through the portal, which is great,” said Dirksen. “We are also working on solutions, to be supported with the NDE Help Desk, to address some of the frontline questions of people who don’t have applications in yet. Solutions that will allow the applicants direct access to the eight certification analysts to better support the applicants going through the system and the process.”

The department recently allocated ESSER funds to support the hiring of five additional staff members in the Educator Certification Section.  Currently the staff is comprised of a director and four analysts. They’ll soon welcome on board two additional analysts, an assistant director of certification and two members of the help desk to assist with communication.

“That’s going to nearly double our capacity to be able to respond to inquiries and process applications,” said Dirksen, who was motivated by the new hires to set lofty goals for the upcoming year. “We’re aiming for a 24-hour response time to any communication that’s coming into our office and we’re shooting for the goal of processing applications within a couple weeks of receiving them.”

It’s a glossed over fact, but Dirksen pointed out that the office has long been 100-percent supported by cash funds. Application fees haven’t been raised for years, so the staff has been operating with limited capacities and resources, especially figuring in the additional expenses of the new educator certification system.

“The amount of funding that’s coming in through the ESSER 3 funds really allows us that expansion of capacity over the next three years,” Dirksen added.

Streamlining the certification process is a key cog in efforts to combat the teacher shortage, which has reared its head across all areas, even ones with perceived surpluses are seeing a decline in candidates. Righting the ship, filling that pipeline, requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Coming off the fall cycle of certification, Dirksen said his staff values communication with district partners immensely.

“I reached out to the HR folks and other administrators to really learn and see what issues and barriers they were facing in an effort to create a plan, troubleshooting and asking ourselves ‘How do we fix the system based on the priorities of our school districts,” he said. “Really, that should be the focus of our plan, addressing the needs that they’re having barriers with.”

One barrier has been identifying teachers who are hired without being certified. Creating a system to identify those applicants early on will help to ensure that those new teachers are starting on day one, Dirksen said. NDE acknowledges the need for being creative in filling vacant spots, and encourages that creativity while they work to put the frameworks in place to best support it.

“We have to think of what opportunities we have from a legislative standpoint, and also from a regulatory standpoint of making revisions to Rule 21 and Rule 24, certification and endorsements, reducing barriers and creating pathways for individuals to become certified,” said Dirksen. “The communication tools and the relationships we’re building through the TEACH platform are aiding in those endeavors.”

Next week, Dirksen is holding a Rule 21 work group that will be tasked with making the transition between graduating from an educator preparation program and starting year one as a teacher a seamless process. The work group will include administrators and will aim to alleviate any anxiety that exists for an applicant that hasn’t been issued certification and the school district who has made the hire.

“We hope to have that work wrapped up towards the end of this fall or early this winter,” Dirksen said. “So that we can make some of those changes and you can actually see those in the system this upcoming year.”

Rule 21, like Rule 20 (educator preparation program approval), Rule 23 (basic skills), and Rule 24 (endorsements), are tied in the Nebraska Council on Teacher Education (NCTE), an advisory group to the State Board of Education.

“We leveraged that group very often when creating focus groups,” said Dirksen. “NCTE is a representation of administrators, teachers, a wide swath of everybody involved. We ask for volunteers often from that group to engage in these conversations.”

The department utilizes NCSA’s recommendations on the appointment of administrators to NCTE, and Dirksen urges administrators to become involved and engaged.

“Additionally, if there’s ever any issues or problems that administrators are having and they’re having problems getting in contact with somebody, my door’s always open,” Dirksen said. “My phone’s always on. I respond to emails quickly, so I would encourage anyone to reach out to me directly. I always encourage people to contact me so we can be creative and really solutions-oriented.”

 
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NCSA Staff Email

Dr. Mike Dulaney mike@ncsa.org
Dr. Dan Ernst dan@ncsa.org
Amy Poggenklass amy@ncsa.org
Megan Hillabrand megan@ncsa.org
Tyler Dahlgren tyler@ncsa.org
Jennifer Sylvester jennifer@ncsa.org
Brenda Petsch brenda@ncsa.org

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