Written by Corbett Smith
Order for certification has DISD coaches scrambling to earn teaching credentials by end of 2013-14
Spruce High School head coach Carl Richardson Jr. was getting ready for the 2012 football season when he heard of a memo that said his position and that of more than 60 other high school coaches in Dallas ISD could be at risk because they lacked teaching certificates.
“I was kind of shocked,” Richardson said. “It came out of nowhere.”
In a memo sent to campus administrators last August, DISD Superintendent Mike Miles wrote that his expectation was that “all extracurricular teachers and coaches will have certification” by the end of the school year.
The news sent noncertified and nondegreed coaches scrambling — some for other jobs, others into certification programs that can take as long as 18 months.
What Miles is asking for isn’t uncommon; most districts throughout the area use only certified teachers on their coaching staffs. But the timeline — which has been extended to the end of the 2013-14 school year — has some campus athletic coordinators concerned.
The changes — which they, in large measure, support — might be coming too quickly, with those in alternative certification programs needing to find classroom roles by August in order to get fully certified. Some high schools, such as Roosevelt and Spruce, might be forced to make wholesale changes to coaching and teaching staffs. And athletic department workers say communication from district leaders has been lacking.
“I think it’s going to be an immense challenge,” said Troy Mathieu, former DISD athletic director and current Grand Prairie AD. “Something like that, that’s ingrained in the culture, it’s going to be hard to change, and hard to make it work quickly.”
When head football coach and campus athletic coordinator Charles DeVille came to Molina High School a decade ago, there were 11 coaches at his campus who were not certified by the Texas Education Agency as classroom teachers. As of the 2012-13 school year, DeVille and the myriad principals he’s worked under (seven by his count), have whittled it down to one.
Most DISD campuses have 20 to 25 athletic coaches.
“I’ve got nothing against people who are noncertified, but we made a campus-based decision to try to get as many teacher-coaches as we could,” DeVille said. “My problem is this: It’s hard for me to pay a hall monitor the same coaching stipend as the guy who went to college and got his degree.”
University Interscholastic League rules don’t require high school coaches to hold teaching certificates. Paraprofessionals, security guards, hall monitors and maintenance workers can be coaches — if their districts allow.
A little over a tenth of DISD’s 500 high school coaches fall in that category. Most are assistant coaches, but there are a few head coaches in high-profile sports who would be affected, including successful Kimball High School boys basketball coach Snoop Johnson.
Roosevelt High School — whose principal was fired May 23 by the DISD board of trustees and whose new campus athletic coordinator and football coach have yet to be approved by the district — has nine noncertified coaches; Spruce and Lincoln high schools have eight.
Under Miles’ new policy, those coaches would have to get their teacher certification through the Texas Education Agency by summer 2014 or be removed from their coaching roles.
Richardson, a 1990 Spruce graduate who played safety at the University of Miami and had a four-year stint in the NFL, holds a degree in sociology and is a salaried employee — working as Spruce’s community liaison.
“I originally thought they might look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Richardson said. “My job is a professional position.”
But clarity on the subject is hard to find. There’s been little communication to those in athletics about the intricacies of future requirements.
Miles’ original directive was extended to a two-year plan in a Feb. 22 memo from Human Capital Management chief Charles Glover and leadership chief Sylvia Reyna.
“We want to make sure we find a balance, where we have fully qualified teachers who can also meet the needs of all our extracurricular programs,” Reyna said.
Reyna confirmed that the 2013-14 schedule is the district’s new policy, but official word has been slow to trickle down to athletic coordinators. The memo from Glover and Reyna was referenced in March at a meeting of campus athletic coordinators as a “proposal,” but few coordinators have seen the memo, which was forwarded to campus principals. Even DISD athletic director Jeff Johnson, as of May 31, had yet to see the document.
For those trying to become fully certified by the end of the 2013-14 year, the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Nell Ingram, head of DISD’s alternative certification program, said that participants must receive a minimum of 300 hours of coursework and training — 400 to 500 hours is the norm — as well as serve successfully as a teacher for two semesters before becoming fully certified.
In short, open positions must be available. Ingram said 15 to 20 coaches have recently gone through her seven-week program and are now available as interns for principals to select.
DISD’s practice of hiring noncertified employees as coaches is an anomaly in North Texas.
A survey of several school districts around the area found that all of them require coaches to be certified.
Garland ISD’s Homer Johnson, athletic director since 1963, said his district hasn’t allowed noncertified coaches since Garland was a one-school town (South Garland High School opened in 1964). Mathieu said Grand Prairie ISD does not hire noncertified coaches. Frisco ISD athletic director David Kuykendall said not only are his coaches certified to teach, but when new positions come open in his district, new hires are likely to be certified to teach core academic classes — such as English, math or science.
Fort Worth ISD ended the practice of noncertified coaches over a decade ago, said athletic director Kevin Greene, codifying what had been the district’s long-standing hiring preference. At the time of the switch, only 13 out of 450 high school coaches in FWISD were noncertified.
Why Dallas ISD has waited to enact a similar policy until now might be explained by two factors: the layoffs, buyouts and elimination of open positions that the district has endured in recent years and the way it draws up coaching contracts.
With smaller staffs, Woodrow Wilson High School athletic coordinator Bobby Estes said, there are fewer teaching/coaching positions.
“It’s just that simple,” he said. “During this RIF [reduction in force], we’ve had to make allowances.”
The lack of dual contracts, which tie coaching and teaching positions together, has also been a longtime problem. The practice, nearly universal in other districts, links an employee’s role as a teacher and coach. With such a contract, if an employee decides he or she no longer wants to coach, he or she can’t hold on to the teaching position. In DISD, however, the contracts aren’t bound together.
“To me, that’s the biggest problem,” Thomas Jefferson High School athletic coordinator Tomas Sanchez said.
Two noncertified Thomas Jefferson assistant coaches with professional ties resigned this year after Miles’ directive — girls basketball coach Racquel Spurlock, a former WNBA center, and baseball coach Michael Grimes, a former minor leaguer.
“You need a position that is tied down directly to a coaching position,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got teachers at my campus that were hired here as coaches, but decided they didn’t like it for whatever reason. Now, I can’t fill those spots” with coaches.
‘FOR THE LONG HAUL’
Reyna, the DISD official, said that district administrators are in “the discussion stage” regarding dual contracts. She also said an action plan has been created to foster greater collaboration from campus administrators, human resources and the athletic department to address the hiring needs of coaches.
On the whole, athletic coordinators said that if both issues could be addressed, Miles’ order would be for the better. What they worry about is losing coaches and being forced to use a willing, if unqualified, replacement.
“You get in a situation where you have to cut a program, or find anyone to fill that job,” W.T. White High School coordinator Eric Ezar said. “That’s been the biggest problem in the last 10 years, having to roll someone out there who doesn’t know very much about the sport they are coaching.”
Johnson, the DISD athletic director, said any shortfall of coaches failing to get certified could be dealt with by an internal shuffling of coaching staffs at the campus level.
“It’s manageable at most of our campuses with our existing staff,” Johnson said. “There are just a few campuses that we are going to have to focus on.”
Spruce’s Richardson is hoping to get certified in physical education and business and will take the Texas Examination of Educator Standards physical education test Saturday. Whether he can find an open job in the district remains to be seen, he said.
“I’m in this for the long haul; I’ve got a lot invested in these kids,” Richardson said. “I want to see this through.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN.