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Relief over deadline extension

The Perham-Dent School District, along with other schools that offer dual enrollment, got a break in November when the national Higher Learning Commission extended the compliance date, from 2017 to 2022, for high school instructors to get a maste...

The Perham-Dent School District, along with other schools that offer dual enrollment, got a break in November when the national Higher Learning Commission extended the compliance date, from 2017 to 2022, for high school instructors to get a master’s degree for the college-level courses they teach.

A district which isn’t able to comply by the 2017 deadline will have to submit an application for the extension, according to action taken by the HLC, but it gives schools such as Perham High School time for teachers to get the proper credentials to teach college-level courses.

Prior to the extension, school districts, including Perham-Dent, were worried that there just wasn’t enough time for teachers to get the additional credits to meet the new requirement, which would mean an interruption of the program, according to Perham High School principal Ehren Zimmerman.

“Few courses could be taught by the present staff at this time under the new requirements,” Zimmerman said.

“To have to take (the dual enrollment program) away would be pretty detrimental to what we’ve been trying to do for years. We’re trying to increase learning opportunities rather than take programs away.”

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Dual enrollment allows juniors and seniors to take college classes while still enrolled in high school. The obvious benefit to students is lower tuition expenses as they take college-level English, Math and some general sciences while still in high school at no cost, while also allowing students to continue to attend classes with their peers and continue in athletic or arts activities, he said.

“Perham has fantastic (extracurricular activities) participation,” he said. “If we couldn’t offer the dual enrollment, it would come to students having to pick and choose whether to move on with their education or stay and participate in activities at the school.”

On average, about 60 students per year participate in the dual enrollment program, he said. About 15 percent are taking a least one course annually.

Schools benefit from the program in that they keep state per pupil funding, offering a percentage to the college for the affiliation with higher education institutions.

The commission set the new standards for instructors earlier this year, requiring those teaching college-level classes to have master’s degrees to teach those courses in the high school setting. School districts fought the 2017 compliance deadline because of the cost to teachers and there realistically wasn’t enough time for teachers to meet the deadline, many needing to take 18 credits to meet the standard. If instructors teach more than one college-level subject, they are required to have a master’s degree in that subject.

The ruling by the commission affects four Perham High School teachers who will have to earn their master’s degree in at least one course. Of the four, one would have to earn master’s degrees in two subjects, a total of 36 credits, to comply with the HLC requirement, Zimmerman said.

Under the change, these Perham teachers could meet the deadline, he said, but they would need to get started now.

In addition to juggling schedules to allow teachers to take the needed classes, the big question for schools is how to pay for the salary increases that will come with the additional credentials.

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“Time and money are the biggest crux,” Zimmerman said.

The district will have to find creative ways to incorporate the higher salary expectations into its budget, said Perham-Dent School Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

Some incentive will have to be offered for those teachers who already have master’s degrees to meet the new requirements of the HLC, Anderson said. It might be creating another lane for these teachers, or the district absorbing some of those educational costs, he said. A work session is planned early next year with the school board to brainstorm solutions.

“I’m glad we have some time to work it out for our present teachers,” Anderson said. “But the bigger issue is looking down the road for a long-term solution for a teacher we haven’t even hired yet to allow this program to continue for future students and their families.”

With the extension, “the school can take a proactive approach to continue these (college course) opportunities for our students,” Zimmerman said.

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