Growing our own: LPS partners with UNL to transition paraeducators to special education teachers

Lincoln Public Schools paraeducators make a difference for students through their passion and dedication every day. A new pilot program launched this year will allow a select number of LPS paraeducators to advance their careers in special education.
Fourteen paraeducators have been selected to participate in the pilot Para Pathway to Teaching (PPT) program designed by LPS and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Through this initiative, participants will be able to obtain their special education teaching endorsement for either grades K-6 or 7-12 while working as a paraeducator at LPS. 

A kickoff event was held on Aug. 10 at UNL’s Barkley Center to celebrate the participants selected and help prepare them for the program.

Iman Alkanfas has worked in LPS classrooms for six years. She has been trying to enter a special education teaching program for the past two years because of her desire to help students. Her perseverance paid off this summer when she received a letter containing happy news from PPT program officials.
“That’s a letter I had been waiting a long time for,” Alkanfas said with a smile.

Each paraeducator smiled as they took signing ceremony photos with LPS Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Vann Price, LPS Superintendent Paul Gausman and Sue Kemp, a professor of practice in the UNL Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. Price explained each of the PPT program provisions to them and Kemp went over details about the UNL course schedules.
Paraeducators also had a chance to meet each other and share stories about their lives. Many said they called parents, spouses, children or friends when they received news about their acceptance into the PPT program.

Price told students she was excited to have a system in place that will help many people. She said the school district’s goal is to build a valuable pipeline of special education teachers through the PPT program.
“I hope you know how excited we are to have you here,” Price said while addressing the group. “Thank you for your work at LPS and thank you for your willingness to take part in this program. We are very glad you’re here.”

“The College of Education and Human Sciences has prioritized partnerships to creatively address challenges facing our community,” said Sherri Jones, dean of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences. “We’re excited to further enhance our partnership with Lincoln Public Schools in order to close the gap on the special education teacher shortage.”

“We’re delighted to have you engaging in this program,” Gausman told students. “We’re investing in you, but we’re also investing in our kids. I’m really proud of you and what you’re doing here to help kids.”
LPS and UNL will cover all tuition and fees for paraeducators, with participants only being responsible for paying for books for their graduate-level courses. LPS will also provide participants with laptops to use for classes during the seven-semester process.

Paraeducators will take classes in the fall, spring and summer semesters for two years before completing student teaching in the final semester. They will also continue working at LPS in their current roles while they take classes at UNL. After successful completion of the program, each candidate will be required to teach full-time at LPS for at least three years. 
Paraeducators are professional educators who work alongside certified teachers in a classroom. They offer additional help and resources for both teachers and students in all grade levels. Some of their duties include developing classroom management strategies, compiling student behavioral reports and communicating with students, parents and administrators.
Many LPS paraeducators work in the special education department. They assist students who have a wide range of abilities and behaviors. They allow teachers to provide more one-on-one assistance to students who may require that guidance.
The PPT program will feature courses in a variety of special education disciplines. Paraeducators will learn additional skills on how best to work with students with physical, mental or behavioral needs.
LPS Interim Special Education Director Mindy Roberts said everyone will benefit from the PPT program. The addition of newly-endorsed teachers will come at a key time for the department. The district served 6,209 special education students this past school year. That number has risen from 5,010 students in the 2013-14 academic year.
“We have so many amazing paraeducators in our district who have the skill sets to become fabulous teachers,” Roberts said. “This partnership will allow us to support them, and that will allow them to help students in every way possible.”
Derek Zabel will begin his second year as a paraeducator at Mickle. The Nebraska Wesleyan University graduate said the PPT program will be the key to unlock his dream of helping LPS students.
“It means a lot to be here today,” Zabel said. “It’s really nice to have an opportunity to reach my goal of becoming a teacher.”
Alkanfas said her experiences at LPS have changed her life for the better. She said being able to pass along those same types of smiles to her future students was the top reason for her excitement.
“I like helping students,” Alkanfas said. “You get to know them. For me, I work with a lot of early childhood kids, so you really get to see them grow. It’s so much fun. To know that I’m going to get to do this as a teacher for a long time is something that makes my day.”

Congratulations to the LPS paraeducators selected to participate in the Para to Teaching Program pilot program:

  • Adnan Alfatlawi, serves at Northeast and Lincoln High
  • Alisha Taylor, serves at Everett Elementary
  • Derek Zabel, serves at Mickle Middle
  • Iman Alkanfas, serves at Adams Elementary
  • Jana McNemar, serves at North Star
  • Jina Leavitt, serves at Mickle Middle
  • Jordan Dudley, serves at Belmont Elementary
  • Julie Colson, serves at Belmont Elementary
  • KeriAnne Fox, serves at Cavett Elementary
  • Kristine Bryan, serves at Campbell Elementary
  • Madeline France, serves at Robinson Elementary
  • Michael Deganhardt, serves at Humann Elementary
  • Taryn Simons, serves at Robinson Elementary
  • Tyler Wright, serves at Norwood Park Elementary

Published: August 21, 2023, Updated: August 21, 2023

Bright smiles were the top emotion Aug. 10 during a celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Officials from Lincoln Public Schools and UNL announced they will be partnering for the pilot Para Pathway to Teaching program. Through this initiative, participants will be able to obtain their special education teaching endorsement for either grades K-6 or 7-12 while working as a paraeducator at LPS.