Pursing a master's degree and teaching certification online is the only option for Casey Mills to complete her graduate studies in the Wood River Valley. By January 2008, Mills will earn a master's and teachers certificate from Grand Canyon University, an online graduate school based in Arizona.
"There was not another option. I would have had to commute. I didn't feel like I wanted to uproot myself and leave my job at Hemingway," said Mills, a teaching assistant at Ketchum-based Hemingway Elementary School.
A recent partnership between the College of Southern Idaho and Idaho State University will enable aspiring teachers, like Mills, to pursue post-secondary education programs in the Wood River Valley.
"We are trying to coordinate our programs to give students a broader menu of options to achieve their goals locally," said Jenny Emery Davidson, director of the College of Southern Idaho Blaine County Center.
Beginning this fall, the College of Southern Idaho, a Twin Falls-based community college, and Idaho State University, a Pocatello-based university, will collaborate to offer a mix of post-secondary education and enrichment programs at the Community Campus in Hailey.
"The College of Southern Idaho and Idaho State signed a memorandum of understanding in the Wood River Valley to make it easier for Blaine County residents to achieve their educational goals," Davidson said.
The College of Southern Idaho will focus on development of lower division courses. Idaho State University will focus on upper division academic classes and graduate classes. Programming will focus in the areas of teaching, nursing, and human resource training.
"Our plan is to make things as smooth as possible for people who want to move up in education," said Christine Gertschen, director of the ISU Blaine County Center.
The programming directly benefits Blaine County School District students and teachers.
"This is a big push with the school district because of the difficulty of getting teachers ... (The school district) is trying to grow their own professionals ... This helps the school district overcome the hiring problem," Davidson said.
In recent years the Blaine County School District has felt the direct correlation between the high cost of living and the district's ability to both attract and retain teachers. In 2004, newly hired teachers returned one out of every four contracts, citing the high cost of living.
The teaching accreditation program will allow the district's paraprofessionals and other valley residents to complete teaching credentials without leaving the valley.
"I truly believe there will be a day when a person can get a degree in education without leaving the valley, as well as other degrees," said Jim Lewis, Blaine County School District superintendent. The school district is a partner in the higher education effort by providing classroom space at the district-owned Community Campus.
With the collaboration, students of the district's high school medical technology and teaching academies will benefit. Students will have more dual credit options to gain credit for higher education classes. Extension of teaching and health care programs, beginning at the high school level, will grow professionals locally.
"I think it continues to complete our strategic plan, which was education for all. We really felt when we passed the $40 million levy we were trying to create education for all, not just K-12," Lewis said.
As an aspiring teacher, Mills said she sees the benefits for students like herself.
"To have an actual teacher and an actual class to participate has tremendous benefits," she said.