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      Head of the Class: RSD Paraprofessional Becomes Teacher

      • Teacher works with studentWe use the term #RSDProud often in the Reading School District because that’s what we have — great pride in our staff who are dedicated every day to providing students with excellent academic experiences, the resources they need to succeed, and the encouragement to reach and exceed their potential.

        Today we’re spotlighting Saeeda Biswas, a Reading paraprofessional-turned-teacher. We spoke with Saeeda Biswas, Kimberly Jones and Rebecca Titus to understand how paraprofessionals interested in becoming a teacher can follow Saeeda, and what challenges or barriers they may face.

        “Being a paraprofessional can be a great stepping stone for when someone is going to school to be a teacher,” said Kimberly Jones, Paraprofessional at Reading High School and President of the Reading Educational Support Professionals Association, the union that represents the District’s paraprofessionals and parent outreach assistants. . “A lot of our paraprofessionals live within the school community. Paraprofessionals are vital for students because they are with students day-in and day-out. We are their constant. The students know they can come to us for help.”

        Saeeda Biswas agrees. “I know how difficult it is to study English as a second language. I know many of the barriers that students face today. I plan to help my students navigate and overcome those barriers to thrive as productive citizens of our society and be successful in their future careers.” Saeeda did that as a paraprofessional, and beginning in March 2022, she is also doing that as a Reading School District teacher.

        Paraprofessionals in the Reading School District already have a high school diploma or GED, and some have college credits. To be eligible, candidates must hold either an associate's degree, have completed 48 college credits, or have passed the state-approved paraprofessional test (a requirement under Title I), which can be given by the District at no cost to the applicant as part of the hiring process. Paraprofessionals supporting Special Education or English as a Second Language programs may have additional requirements. Building on those qualifications, if they are interested in becoming a teacher, Reading School District stands ready to support them.

        “The advice I would offer to someone looking to become a paraprofessional is to be flexible, supportive, a good listener, and patient,” said Jones. “We encourage the children to be independent and give them organizational skills for their future. It is a very rewarding profession.”

        Once a paraprofessional is hired, Reading School District provides the training they need at no cost. If a paraprofessional wants to further their training to become a teacher, the District offers a tuition reimbursement program of up to 6 credits per year at $350 per credit.

        Working as a paraprofessional positioned Saeeda Biswas well on her journey to become a teacher. “I started as a paraprofessional in 2016 at Riverside Elementary. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences there, working in so many various areas: helping with door duty, lunch duty, PSSA duty, MTSS Student Services, virtual services, acceleration, daycare, late pick-up, bus duty, reading specialists, and more! I gained so much from this meaningful training and observation. It also drove my desire to develop my skills and become a certified teacher.”

        Rebecca Titus, President of the Reading Education Association, the union that represents the District’s teachers, nurses, social workers, and counselors, believes that paraprofessionals gain invaluable skills that prepare them to transition into a teaching role. “Working as a paraprofessional allows for hands-on experience with a multitude of learners. Book knowledge is very different from real-world knowledge, and working directly with students allows for an individual to be better prepared for all the possible scenarios educators face.”

        When asked what advice they have to share for anyone interested in making the transition from paraprofessional to teacher, Rebecca Titus had this advice:

        • Work closely with the teachers whose classrooms you are in. Collaborate with the teacher regarding lesson planning, parent contacts, assessments, classroom management techniques, and differentiating instruction for students. 

        • Learn from seeing many different teaching styles and being able to implement techniques that work best for your students. 

        “If I can do it, you can do it!” Saeeda Biswas shared, “Getting my teacher's license was a lot of work for me. I just had my second child; I was taking care of a big family, and on top of that, English is my second language. So when I first started the program, it was difficult because I had to learn how to study and be a student again. What helped me was the support and encouragement from the Reading School District, my colleagues, and of course, my family. I was so lucky to be a part of the Riverside family and be an employee at Reading School District.”

        “I had some fantastic classroom teachers as mentors. I also received some financial assistance from the Reading School District. Everyone stood behind me and supported me as I reached my goals. It was confusing and scary at times but ultimately rewarding. I can’t wait to be a role model for my students and plan to share my story to help motivate them.” 

        Reading paraprofessionals interested in pursuing a teaching certification are encouraged to contact their school principal or Human Resources for additional information. Reading School District offers a tuition reimbursement program up to 6 credits per year at $350 per credit for all bargaining groups. 

      Safe and Sound: RSD Safe Schools Officer Takes the Lead

      • Robert YelkAt Reading School District, providing a safe and secure learning environment is top priority. After three years of pandemic disruption and uncertainty, school safety is everyone’s top concern. Meet Robert Yelk, our new Lead Safe Schools Officer (SSO). He sees a bright path forward. 

        “As Lead SSO, there are three main goals I’d like to achieve,” said Yelk. “1) Provide a safe and secure environment that also provides a welcoming feeling and sense of belonging for all. 2)Maintain a well-trained, community-oriented, professional workforce. And 3) build positive relationships with students, staff, and the community we serve.”

        Superintendent Jennifer Murray has made improvements to school safety an ongoing priority. “We believe in continuous improvement. We’ve listened to our students, staff, and community members to understand their concerns, and then developed plans to address them. We’ve made many security improvements this summer, with more to come. As our Lead SSO, Robert Yelk will help us reach many of our goals, including recruiting more safe schools team members, who can serve as positive role models and help create a welcoming school environment for everyone.”

        Yelk understands the hesitancy many have when it comes to taking a job in school security. “When I started, this job was a placeholder for me,” he said. “But as I worked my first year, I found I enjoyed my interactions with students. I found real support from my coworkers. And I found my calling where I least expected it. This is now my seventh year as a Safe Schools Officer, and I look forward to continuing on this path.” 

        Yelk said graduation is his favorite time of year. “Knowing that for some students, our Safe Schools team had a big part in helping that student cross the stage…that’s the best part of the job. We make a difference.”

        Yelk also believes that school safety is everyone’s job. “School safety cannot fall just to those labeled as security/safety officers,” he said. “Students, parents, staff, and the community must work together to prevent emergency situations and respond to incidents that may occur.” 

        Schools that foster a sense of safety can improve behavioral and academic outcomes by supporting students, especially those experiencing mental health or other challenges. “We are living through stressful times,” said Murray. “Students have experienced social and political upheaval, pandemic disruptions, and an increasing focus on school violence nationally. As a result, we’re prioritizing mental health and wellness at Reading. If a student needs extra support, we have resources available.” Students and families can contact their school nurse or visit Reading Health Services for more information. 

        If anyone has information or concerns about the safety of a student or school, use our anonymous tip line at safe2saypa.org or call 1-844-SAF2SAY. In the case of an emergency, dial 9-1-1. 



      Movin' On Up: RSD Teacher Becomes Assistant Principal

      • Kim Clarke

        At Reading School District, people are our priority. We believe every student can learn and excel when given the support and skills they need to succeed. We have pride in our staff—people who are passionate advocates for public education, unwavering supporters of students, and unmatched cheerleaders for one another. And we strongly value community—the partnerships built through trust and shared vision with parents, community members, business owners, and community leaders and decision-makers. 

        Kimberly Clarke, Assistant Principal at Northwest Middle School, understands firsthand. A self-professed “proud graduate of Reading School District,” Clarke began her career with Reading in 2004 as an Educational Assistance Program (EAP) tutor. In 2006 she became a full-time Kindergarten Teacher and held that position for 13 years; 10 years as team leader. She began working as an English as a Second Language Teacher for English Learners (EL) in 2018. Now, in her 19th year as a team member at Reading School District, Clarke is moving up to serve as Assistant Principal at Northwest Middle School. 

        “I worked in a building with administrators who practiced leadership development and succession planning,” shared Clarke. “This gave me the opportunity to explore many leadership roles. I participated in curriculum writing, leadership seminars, equity committees, and community leadership forums. These experiences prompted me to pursue my master’s degree in Educational Leadership.”

        Reading’s “Grow Your Own” initiative supports staff members as they pursue interests close to their hearts. Reading School District is proud to offer guidance and support, whether you’re a paraprofessional interested in becoming a teacher or a team member interested in a leadership position.

        “My greatest advice to anyone is to follow your heart,” offers Kimberly Clarke. “Making the decision to become an administrator allowed me to have the greatest opportunity to positively impact more students on a daily basis.”

        “Reading welcomes people in any stage of their career—as long as they are dedicated to students and learning,” shared Wanda Gonzalez-Crespo, Interim Assistant to the Superintendent. “Whether someone is just starting or ready to achieve a long-term goal, we’re here to provide a stable job and a career you can grow. We provide training and opportunities that support your goals. We’re excited to celebrate Kimberly Clarke as she begins her new role as Assistant Principal. As a Reading graduate turned tutor, teacher, and now administrator, Mrs. Clarke serves as inspiration for all around her.”

        When asked about her focus for her first year of administration, Clarke said: “I look forward to building relationships with the students, staff members, and families as I focus on creating a positive learning environment for all students. I aspire to create an atmosphere that ensures each child the opportunity to learn, grow, and reach their full potential.” 

        Reading paraprofessionals and teachers interested in growing their careers are encouraged to contact their school principal or Human Resources for additional information. Reading School District offers a tuition reimbursement program for up to six credits per year at $350 per credit for members of all bargaining groups.