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Northeastern Illinois University and ASPIRA partner to increase Special Education teachers in Illinois

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Northeastern Illinois University has entered into a new partnership with ASPIRA of Illinois to help ASPIRA teachers gain their Learning Behavior Specialist (LBS I) Endorsement over the summer. All of the teachers enrolled in this program are already licensed teachers working for ASPIRA, a national educational organization that operates four charter schools in Chicago and also provides after-school programs in many Chicago Public Schools and Chicago charter schools. This new program allows these teachers to work as Special Education teachers, an area in which ASPIRA has a shortage.

“The partnership with ASPIRA allows current teachers to complete online courses for a Learning Behavior Specialist I (LBS I) Endorsement (K-21) on an existing Professional Educator License (PEL),” said Effie Papoutsis Kritikos, professor and chair of Northeastern’s Special Education Department. “The participants complete a sequence of four courses May 15 through Aug. 15 within the four areas established by the State of Illinois Board of Education.”

Hanan Almiladi-Lashley, director of Student Services for ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois and a Northeastern alumna (M.A. ’03 Special Education; M.A. ’13 Educational Leadership), feels the high quality of education she received at Northeastern prepared her well for her role as an educator. Almiladi-Lashley is confident ASPIRA instructors will receive that same level of education.

“ASPIRA highly regards Northeastern as an institution of higher learning, especially for Education,” Almiladi-Lashley said. “Having acquired my degrees from there and having worked with Dr. Kritikos, I know that she’s a strong leader and felt we would be able to establish a collaborative effort with the University in order to meet our needs at ASPIRA. This partnership is a natural win-win for all.”

In order for teachers to earn their LBS I, they have to complete four courses. All of the courses are regularly offered as part of Northeastern’s Special Education program, but this is the first time they’ve been paired so students can complete all four courses remotely over the summer.

“The beauty of this program is it’s four courses: the first two courses are the first half of the summer the second two courses are the second half of summer,” Kritikos said. “ASPIRA surveyed their teachers prior to COVID-19, and the majority of teachers voted that they would prefer for the classes to be online. So, when we prepared this program, it was always going to be remote.

Almiladi-Lashley said eight ASPIRA teachers are currently registered for the classes. She and Kritikos believe offering these courses remotely now will also help better prepare these educators for remote teaching of their students.

“Currently our teachers are practicing remote learning with our students using a combination of traditional classroom practices via Google Classroom, as well as using online platforms with students to teach them remotely,” Almiladi-Lashley said. “Northeastern Illinois University professors will be aware of our remote learning situation that’s happening across the state and will be facilitating their instruction to make sure that the ASPIRA teachers who are acquiring this LBS I are aware of the myriad of ways teachers are now required to facilitate instruction via remote learning platforms such as Google Meet and so on, as well as support them in developing synchronous and asynchronous learning activities for their students.”

Kritikos hopes that if this program is successful, Northeastern may be able to offer this set of contracted courses to other districts and educational partners next summer to meet the needs of teachers and the students they serve.

Northeastern partnered with ASPIRA last year to create La Conexión, a program to ensure ASPIRA students are recruited to Northeastern, apply to Northeastern, and are supported in their post-secondary experiences at Northeastern. Northeastern and ASPIRA are also working on building a network for people who are alumni of both ASPIRA and Northeastern.