Sparta Middle School

The Sparta R-III School District received a $1.4 million State Emergency Management Agency grant for construction of a tornado safe building on its elementary/middle school campus.

The idea started in Sparta, and some larger school districts are taking note.

The Sparta R-3 School District is one of several districts in southwest Missouri to partner with the Missouri State University College of Education Internship Academy. The program puts student interns to work as classroom teachers for an entire school year. For the first time in Sparta, three interns will be paid. In addition to teaching alongside established teachers, the interns in Sparta will fill in from time-to-time as substitutes.

Sparta Superintendent Rocky Valentine said he would have loved to have been paid while gaining experience when his career was beginning.

“Previously, when I did student teaching, I did it for 16 weeks and I didn’t make any money. It’s a class, that’s how the universities justify that. Credit to Missouri State for saying, ‘We’re going to let you sub,’ and it helps us because we have a shortage of people willing to sub,” Valentine said.

Sparta put money into its 2020-2021 budget to pay its interns, which set it apart from other Internship Academy partners.

“When they see the list of where they can work at, there will be Sparta and there will be a compensation piece,” Valentine said. “The win for the student teachers, the interns if you will, is they’re going to get compensated for subbing.”

The yearlong commitment of the MSU Internship Academy makes it unique. Valentine said it can also be used as a recruitment tool for teachers who spend time in Sparta and decide that they like working in a smaller school district.

“School districts love to hire student teachers because they get to see their body of work for six months, whereas this program allows you to see them for a whole year,” Valentine said. “We’re going to get a firsthand look at future educators, possible hires, so it gives us an opportunity to vet people that much faster.”

Valentine said it is also important to partner the student teachers with teachers who are established in Sparta. It’s another way to make the school district an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the interns. They may not end up going to work in Sparta, but they can recommend the district to their peers at Missouri State.

“It’s an opportunity for us as a smaller school district to get our name out there,” Valentine said. “We want people to be thinking about Sparta as an employer, in the same sense as Nixa, Ozark, Willard, Republic and Springfield.”

Nixa, one of the larger schools competing with Sparta for teaching talent, followed Sparta’s lead by announcing its own paid internship partnership with the Internship Academy on Jan. 31. The Cassville and Logan-Rogersville school districts announced similar paid partnerships.

Valentine expects other large schools will eventually catch on and lessen the competitive advantage Sparta gains.

“They have a bigger budget than we do, but at least this spring we’re going to have a first crack at some of those top-notch student teachers, plus we get extra hands on deck,” Valentine said. “We’re going to be paying them to come work for us.”

The student teachers will set their schedules in the spring and then come to work in the Sparta School District in August 2020, for the start of the fall semester.

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