“In a time when the profession is struggling,” said Kristyn Loy, “there are still people who want to teach.”
Loy, the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Coordinator of Teacher Residency Programs, works to support aspiring educators seeking full-time teaching roles in WCCUSD. She manages teacher pathways at a time when vacancies have left district leaders scrambling to fill unstaffed classrooms.
But the desire to teach, Loy has learned, does not always match a potential educator’s academic preparedness. When she began recruiting for teacher residencies in 2021, Loy noted a key barrier keeping many district employees from pursuing “their dream” of earning a teaching credential.
“I noticed that about one third of the people who were coming to our recruitment sessions didn’t hold a bachelor’s degree,” Loy said.
Specifically, she explained, many district paraprofessionals, classified employees, and contracted staff who wanted to become full-time WCCUSD teachers were essentially locked out of pathways to teach in district schools.
“That’s when we connected with Rivet School as a potential solution to meet this critical need,” Loy said.
Founded in 2018, Rivet School aims to “deliver a re-imagined college experience for folks who typically haven’t been able to access higher education and workforce development,” according to Hanna Curhan, Associate Director of Partnerships at the Richmond-based nonprofit.
“We blend an online college degree with a high-support wraparound model,” Curhan said, adding that the current partnership with WCCUSD gears its offering to “paraeducators and classified staff who want to become teachers in the district.”
“Our Rivet School partnership is really expanding access to anyone who is working in WCCUSD schools,” Loy said.
Increasing access to degree, credential pathways
In addition to approximately 1,500 credentialed teachers, WCCUSD employs over 1,300 full-time classified staff, more than 500 of whom are “paraprofessionals,” according to the California Department of Education database. While these employees often work with students in a variety of roles, they are not authorized to perform the duties of a full-time credentialed teacher.
Yet some of these classified employees, Loy said, are eager to earn their teaching credential. That’s where WCCUSD’s teacher pipeline programs come in.
The Rivet School partnership “opened up the opportunity to so many more people, especially people that are working in our after school expanded learning program,” Loy said, explaining that many of these employees lack the B.A. degree needed to enter the district’s existing teacher residencies.
For aspiring educators who work at WCCUSD schools in non-certificated roles, the process to begin earning a credential can seem daunting, Loy added.
“For a lot of people,” Loy explained, “the barriers were not only that they didn’t hold a B.A. yet, but they didn’t have time to do any schooling. They’re supporting their families, or they couldn’t afford to go back to school and get a bachelor’s degree.”
With grant support from Chamberlin Education Foundation, the Rivet School team worked with Loy to recruit 23 WCCUSD participants into the school’s B.A. program this Fall. Foundation funding allows Rivet to lower the annual out-of-pocket cost to a maximum of $1,000 per student.
In addition to reducing the financial barrier, the Rivet School program is designed to ensure participant success in other ways. The program offers self-paced, competency-based learning that allows participants — many of whom work full-time — to manage their academic coursework on a schedule that best meets their individual needs, according to Curhan.
Rivet School partners with Southern New Hampshire University to offer its online degree program. Once enrolled, students gain continuous support through a coach who helps them navigate challenges in their self-directed learning. In addition, Curhan said, Rivet School offers laptop computers, free tutoring, access to mental wellness resources, and even an emergency fund in case a sudden expense might derail their progress.
The overall goal, Curhan said, is to “make this as accessible and as affordable as possible to anybody who wants to become a teacher in the district.”
Diverse, community-rooted talent
Beyond the urgent need to fill educator vacancies, Loy described the partnership with Rivet School as one way to cultivate community-rooted talent and diversify the West Contra Costa teacher workforce so it will more closely reflect the demographics of the student population it serves.
“Our students deserve and need teachers who look like them, teachers who have similar cultures and backgrounds and have lived similar experiences,” Loy said. When it comes to serving WCCUSD students, Loy asks, “who better than our community members, and graduates of our schools?”
Several members of the WCCUSD school board praised Loy’s effort during a recent school board meeting.
“There has to be an intentionality behind who we’re seeking,” said trustee Jamela Smith-Folds during an October board meeting, according to the Richmond Pulse. “When we are creating this profile of who we are as a district, we need to also create that same profile in our hiring, our recruiting, our retention, our support,” Smith-Folds said.
“That’s when we really are able to shift the district, and able to shift the learning of our students,” Smith-Folds added, “because there’s a real connection to the people that are standing in front of them.”
According to Loy, 100% of the current Rivet School cohort in WCCUSD’s pathway to diversify the workforce has existing ties to WCCUSD.
“They are living within the district cities and they’re already invested in our community,” Loy explained. “Whether they have previously been a substitute teacher, a classified employee, a graduate of WCCUSD, a parent with their children in our WCCUSD schools… They all have one or more of those connections.”
For some in the Rivet program, Loy said, this opportunity is allowing a long-held desire to become a tangible reality.
“There are still people whose dream it is to teach,” Loy said.
“They’re our community members,” Loy continued. “If we can connect them with these opportunities, if we can give them the resources and guide them through this process of becoming a teacher, then they’re going to come into our classrooms, they’re going to succeed, and they will stay, knowing that they are already tied to our community, that they’re invested in it.”
As a proud WCCUSD alumnus now in her 18th year working in the district, Loy touts the benefit of teachers rooted in, and remaining in, the community.
“That’s the goal, she said. “We want them to stay.”
About the Chamberlin Education Foundation
The Chamberlin Education Foundation supports initiatives that advance education equity and academic excellence in West Contra Costa public schools. CEF’s grants and programs support effective education leadership, high-quality curriculum and instruction, educator talent pipelines, and help create and sustain a student-centered public education ecosystem.
Click here for more about our team, our vision, and our foundation’s guiding principles.