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Today in Sonoma County, we face two key challenges to providing our students the best education possible.

These are, first, a statewide teacher shortage that is impacting local classrooms as districts struggle to find qualified teachers, and, second, a need to update our teaching approaches and strategies to match our students’ learning needs for the 21st century.

With these challenges comes an opportunity for innovation.

This academic year, the California Department of Education estimates that districts around the state need to fill 21,500 openings at the same time that less than 15,000 credentials are being issued.

As superintendent of schools in Sonoma County, I see it as my responsibility to recruit and secure the highest quality educational talent pool for Sonoma County school districts.

To this end, in early 2016, the Office of Education will open the North Coast School of Education. By the time it’s fully implemented in 2018, this school of education — located at SCOE and accredited through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing system — will offer the following: teacher intern programs that provide teaching candidates a quick path to the classroom; teacher induction programs to support and coach first-time teachers; an administrative credential program; and designated subject programs including career technical education, adult education and special subjects credentials.

We are particularly excited to offer the “Be a Teacher” intern program. This program aims to enroll one or two cohorts of about 35 teacher candidates in early 2016 and have them working in classrooms as paid teacher interns by the fall.

The program is designed to be flexible, affordable and accommodating of the busy schedules of the young parent or working professional with a college degree who might be looking to change jobs and become a teaching candidate.

I hope this new opportunity will appeal to those with real-world job experience who are looking to re-enter the workforce or change careers. This type of person is perfectly suited to incorporate their life experience into their teaching methodology and make the classroom more like the places that students will live and work for the rest of their lives.

The 21st century signals a new age for education, one I think of as an age of exploration. In this new era, students actively gather knowledge, as opposed to the old mode where teachers delivered them information in a static way. Specifically, schools and classrooms need to be designed around what the national Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls “The Four Cs.”

The term refers to four practices — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication — that educators have determined are the most important to a modern education.

The best way to instill these practices in students is by leaving behind the old lecture model of teaching and instead staffing classrooms with excellent teachers, experts in their fields, who work collaboratively to set the stage for student exploration.

The North Coast School of Education seeks to create teacher candidates committed to these Four Cs who can foster 21st century skills in their students.

These include and go beyond the basic competencies, or skills, we expect schools to teach, such as language arts, social studies, mathematics and science,

They include skills such as creative and critical artistic expression, innovation and collaborative problem solving; communication skills centered around language, digital media and social networking; and cultural skills including cross-cultural understanding, personal responsibility and the ability to work in diverse teams.

Yes, the need for instructors to fill our classrooms is great. But so is the opportunity to create a new generation of inspiring teachers, ones with real-world experience that equips them perfectly to help our students thrive in this new, exploratory age of learning.

Steven D. Herrington is superintendent of schools for Sonoma County.

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