December 14, 2023

WISD and EMU's first cohort of parapros to graduate with special education endorsement

The program addresses the critical shortage of special education teachers in the state

After a rigorous three-and-a-half-year program, 19 paraprofessionals representing Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) will have something to brag about this December – a special education endorsement from Eastern Michigan University.

The Paraprofessional-to-Teacher Certification Pilot Program, spearheaded by Eastern and WISD, is designed to invest in existing public school employees who are interested in becoming special education teachers. The program, made possible by a special waiver granted by the Michigan Department of Education, focuses on areas of critical need for educators. These include specialties such as emotional impairment and learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and cognitive impairment. These specialized programs are primarily established through partnerships with the WISD and local public school districts.

Since its inception in the fall of 2020, the program has gained momentum. "EMU and WISD have showcased a successful approach by leveraging their paraeducators, and this inaugural cohort has exemplified remarkable strength,” said Myung-Sook Koh, professor of special education and faculty director for Grow Your Own Programs at EMU.

“With the highest retention rate and a rapid adaptation to the distinctive challenges faced by members of this pioneering program, they have set a high standard for excellence," said Koh. 

Luther Mayfield, a first-cohort student graduating this month, is an example of perseverance and a testament to the program’s impact. Despite experiencing the loss of several family members in a short period, Mayfield continued to pursue his passion of becoming a special education teacher.

“I'm grateful for the para-to-teacher certification program because it allowed me to advance my career teaching in the classroom,” said Mayfield. “I'm also thankful that this program prepared me for the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification and that I passed the examination on the first attempt.” 

“These 19 new special education teachers bring a unique knowledge, energy and passion to our school communities here in Washtenaw County,” shared WISD Superintendent Naomi Norman. The backgrounds, experiences, and identities of Washtenaw County’s paraprofessionals are also more reflective of the diverse student populations in classrooms today.  “They have been embedded into our schools for years as paraprofessionals, so they already know our students, their families, and our school communities - and that is priceless. The impact these new teachers will have because of this program will be tremendous.”

Justin Harper, another first-cohort student, said he approached this journey one step at a time. “Persistence and determination have shown me never to give up on my dreams, and because of this, my dreams are a reality,” said Harper. “No words can explain the feeling of exuberance I have now. After graduation, I plan to work within the district that has supported me for years and to be an effective resource teacher within Ann Arbor Public Schools.” 

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Non Discrimination Information

ADA and Title IX Coordinator ADA and Title IX Coordinator
Brian Marcel
Associate Superintendent
1819 S. Wagner Road 
Ann Arbor, MI  48103
(734) 994-8100 ext. 1402
Cassandra Harmon-Higgins
Executive Director, HR & Legal Services
1819 S. Wagner Road 
Ann Arbor, MI  48103
(734) 994-8100 ext. 1311