Staff with the Office of Public Instruction provided an update on the new educator licensure system as well as the annual teacher licensure report to the Montana Board of Public Education on Thursday afternoon.
The OPI’s licensure office has recently come under fire. In two letters, groups of school superintendents from around the state expressed their concerns with Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen’s leadership.
OPI’s previous online licensing system was closed to the public beginning on Jan. 1 and the new system from RANDA Solutions will not be open until June 1. During the closure, educators must mail a paper application to the OPI until May 6 or wait until the new system is launched.
A kickoff meeting with the vendor RANDA Solutions and the OPI is planned to take place this month as they begin to move forward with data migration from the old to the new system. The OPI is aiming that the new licensure system will be ready for use beginning on June 1.
The OPI anticipates it will begin testing the new system and training staff to operate it this spring between April and May.
“A lot of what’s happening right now is being driven by RANDA, however, from a project standpoint, with myself and the team, really facilitating our meetings and ensuring that every agency, every department, every data component is being accounted for,” said Zam Alidina, a contracted employee with the OPI for project management.
Alidina explained that RANDA is a leader in the field for education licensure systems that have worked with state education departments in Tennessee, Colorado, Kentucky and South Carolina.
“So they definitely are a leader, but not only because they’ve worked with these organizations, but also because of their technical and business subject matter expert knowledge within this application,” Alidina said.
That expert knowledge has come in handy when Alidina has approached RANDA with questions regarding risks with data, business or integration, he said.
The new RANDA system will provide more automation in the workflow at OPI’s licensing office, therefore eliminating most of the manual work that was done previously. This will allow OPI staff to focus on “high priority items that need to be met,” Alidina said.
The display of the system will also be modernized compared with the previous MSEIS system used by the OPI.
Board member Mary Heller raised concerns to Crystal Andrews, OPI’s director of educator licensure, about the implementation of a new system while her staff are “swamped with licensing and renewals.”
“I’m just very concerned about the overload, possibly,” Heller said.
“A lot of times when these systems go live, and then all of a sudden everybody’s getting on them, they can crash, and I’m really worried about our amazing staff at OPI and the overload,” she continued.
Andrews replied that her office has prepared the licensure frequently-asked-questions page online and necessary documents for licensing have also been updated for the interim period. They have been receiving a lot of licensing paperwork since Jan. 1, including 200 paper renewals, and have been processing them with no issues.
“Once we have the new system and the trainings we will be revamping the webpage,” Andrews said. “That’s the piece that I’m most excited about.
“I can assure you, as we saw the demo for RANDA, that it’s just so much better and user-friendly that it will ease everyone’s minds once we get there,” she continued.
The new webpage will be more user-friendly and ultimately a positive change for her office, Andrews said.
She took the podium again to discuss educator licensure activity during fiscal year 2021-2022. During that time there were 5,204 licenses, including renewals, duplicates, license upgrades and endorsements. The highest number of licenses were for elementary education, Andrews said.
In that fiscal year, the OPI issued 1,646 new licenses and 62% of those were for standard teaching licenses, which means the educator has completed an accredited teacher preparation program with a bachelor’s degree.
“As you can see, initial licenses have increased this year by almost 400 licenses,” Andrews said. “Our renewals, upgrades, endorsements and duplicates are down slightly but have maintained a very similar trend in the last five years.”
For her presentation, Andrews analyzed critical endorsement shortage areas in Montana since 2017. Based on this year’s data, new licenses in those areas have increased by 1,297.
“I’m happy to know that special education has 138 new licenses knowing that that is such a huge area of critical need in our state,” Andrews said. “I’m sure it is not enough but it’s positive to see that number had gone up quite a bit.”
Andrews is optimistic that the state’s licensing numbers will increase in 2022 with the new licensing system and upcoming revisions to teacher licensing rules.