New special education teachers will get intense job training and an opportunity to practice their teaching before the school year starts as part of a state grant given to the Pinellas County school system.
The program comes as Pinellas realigns staffing in special education classes as part of an effort to improve lagging performance.
The graduation rate for students in the district's exceptional student education programs is lower than most other large districts in Florida, and 10 percentage points below the state average.
The $949,241 grant will pay for about 50 to 60 teachers to participate in a four-week summer training program that emphasizes practical skills. Teachers will take seminars and then apply what they learned by teaching summer school.
Superintendent Mike Grego described the experience for teachers as akin to a "paid internship."
Lisa Grant, executive director of exceptional student education, said the program is meant to provide teachers with training, practice and feedback.
The goal is not only to better prepare new teachers for the classroom but to encourage them to stay in the profession. Many teachers quit a few years after they start.
It can be particularly difficult to recruit and retain special education teachers, Grant said.
"The paperwork itself can be overwhelming," she said.
Pinellas is the only school district in Florida to participate in the grant this year. The Florida Department of Education, which provided the grant through a partnership with TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, plans to add other school districts over three years.
As part of the grant, TNTP will hire up to 13 coaches and eight trainers to work with the teachers. Those positions will likely be filled by veteran teachers in the Pinellas school district. All of the positions are only for the summer session.
District officials still are negotiating to have participating teachers paid by TNTP rather than the school district.
Grego said the school district typically hires about 50 to 60 new special education teachers every year. The program also will be open to recent mid-year hires who might have missed out on other training opportunities, he said.
The program will run from June 30 to July 25.