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To tackle an ongoing teacher shortage, the Sonoma County Office of Education this fall expanded its teacher credential school, opening up a new facility northwest of Santa Rosa.

The 7,000-square-foot Teacher Learning Center on Skylane Boulevard features four classrooms and an expansive lounge area. It opened in August to accommodate the North Coast School of Education’s growing teacher and administrative credential programs. Classes previously were held next door at SCOE’s main facility and nearby businesses.

About 2,000 students are enrolled in programs at the school, which has about 10 full-time employees and serves 155 school districts in Northern California. The school opened three years ago to train and quickly move educators into classrooms, and since has experienced rapid growth, Sonoma County Superintendent Steve Herrington said.

The county currently faces about 300 teacher vacancies a year, Herrington said. About a third of the vacancies are filled each school year by new graduates from Sonoma State University, but it’s not enough.

“In 2015, we began to experience and see the teacher shortage developing in California big time,” Herrington said.

The new facility cost an estimated $5.9 million. It was funded through a $4.6 million loan, to be paid back over time through the county Office of Education’s general fund, and about $1.3 million in one-time redevelopment funds.

Part of Herrington’s vision with the North Coast School and its expansion is to trail and retain teachers locally, a challenge exacerbated by the county’s housing crisis.

Dani Eaton, a SCOE special education teacher hired in 2016, was born and raised in Sonoma County and received her teaching credential through the North Coast School. She researched different programs after earning her bachelor’s degree from San Diego State, and ultimately move back to the area to reconnect with her roots and enroll in the local program.

“I needed to be able to work while also earning my credential,” Eaton said at a Teacher Learning Center dedication ceremony on Thursday.

The school helped her connect with the community and got her in the classroom sooner. After a semester, prospective teachers can earn an intern credential, which allows them to work in a school and take classes.

“This Teacher Learning Center not only connects educators across Sonoma County, but it also provides teachers a place to learn and grow,” Eaton said.

Doug Purvis, 42, is in his first year as a part-time science teacher at Santa Rosa High School. He takes a night class two times a week at the Teacher Learning Center.

“I have been really impressed with the quality of teachers they have,” said Purvis, who lives in Wikiup. “The people who run the program have been great. They really know their stuff.”

He earned his intern credential last spring, taking classes at the nearby Redwood Empire School Insurance Group as the Teacher Learning Center was being built. The facility broke ground in June 2017.

Purvis was an engineer in the semiconductor industry for 17 years but lost his job when his employer moved overseas. He then spent four years as a stay-at-home dad to his two young children. When they headed to school full time, he decided to become a teacher.

Several of his peers also are transitioning into second careers, or starting their first after being stay-at-home parents.

“The night classes works better with our family schedule,” said Purvis, who has a couple years left to earn his teaching credential.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, commended teachers for their contributions to the community and presented a congressional honor to Herrington.

Thompson said the state faces a shortage of about 7,000 teachers. However, the problem could get worse if the Circuit Court overturns a district court ruling requiring the federal government to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for existing enrollees.

He said about 5,000 California teachers are enrolled in DACA, which provides work visas for young people brought into the U.S. illegally as children and temporarily shields them from deportation.

“If things keep going the way they’re going in Washington, those 5,000 teachers in California are at risk,” Thompson said. “That would really set education back on its heels. You can’t build enough of these fantastic facilities to overcome that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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