Jun 21, 2017
Grant AwardeesWill Increase Number of Special Ed Teachers, Fill Rural Classrooms
BATON ROUGE, La.-The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today approved $2.2 million in Believe and Prepare Educator Grant Program allocations to assist teacher preparation providers statewide in their efforts to launch or expand programs that provide preparation in the classroom, under a mentor educator, for aspiring teachers. The round of grants approved today focuses specifically on classrooms in which identifying highly prepared educators has been most challenging: those serving students with disabilities and those in rural regions of the state.
The Believe and Prepare Educator Grant Programbegan in spring 2014 and has since awarded $4.89 million to teacher preparation providers statewide. The additional $2.2 million in grant awards--a mixture of existing state and federal funds, including Louisiana's federal $67 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant--willassist 13 colleges and non-profit organizations in securing staff and resources to expand and strengthen their teacher preparation programs. These grants enable providers to focus efforts on:
  • Starting or expanding yearlong teaching residencies in partnership with rural schools and school systems participating in the TIF grant; and
  • Increasing the number of certified special education teachers.
These focus areas were identified earlier this year among the key priorities for the Believe and Prepare teacher preparation program as it moved forward, and the Department issued a call for applications from preparation providers statewide. The Department ultimately selected the 13 plans that best aligned with the state's goals. Grantees and their partners include:
Grantees (Teacher Preparation Providers)
Partners (School Systems)
Louisiana State University-Alexandria
Concordia, Grant, Rapides
Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge
West Baton Rouge
Louisiana State University-Shreveport
Bossier, Caddo
Nicholls State University
Louisiana Tech
Bossier, Caddo, Jackson, Monroe, Ouachita
Northwestern State University
DeSoto, Grant, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine, West Carroll
Collegiate Academies
Southeastern University
St. Helena
The New Teacher Project (TNTP)
Lincoln, Richland
Teach Ascension Academy
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Allen, St. Landry
University of Louisiana at Monroe
Monroe, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, West Carroll
University of New Orleans
St. Charles
Of the applications received, the majority addressed the geographical challenges of rural districts by offering coursework at residency school sites and by using technology to provide virtual coursework or mentoring.
"Schools in rural parishes struggle to attract new graduates," said State Superintendent John White. "Within the rural parishes participating in Louisiana's TIF grant and partnering with preparation providers through Believe and Prepare, for example, 13 percent of teachers were either uncertified or teaching out-of-field during the 2015-2016 school year. The establishment of undergraduate and post-baccalaureate residency programs creates a pipeline of excellent teachers into these rural schools and communities, and gives mentor teachers in those schools a chance to expand their practice."
Patsy Jenkins, Chair of the Department of Education at Louisiana State University-Alexandria (LSU-A), said the shortage of teachers in rural classrooms is among the obstacles the teacher preparation program there is working to overcome.
"We have placed 100 percent of our traditional undergraduate students, as well as our post-baccalaureate residents in rural or hard-to-fill schools and districts," she said. "Over 50 percent of graduates who were residents in rural districts or schools have been hired as the teacher of record by the district."
LSU-A has graduated two cohorts of education students who completed the yearlong residency program, and it will place dozens more teaching candidates in rural districts, including Concordia, Grant and Rapides parishes, again this year.
"If we expect to impact student learning in the Pre-K-12 classroom, we must prepare future teachers to know what to expect as they face the challenges of today's student needs," Jenkins said. "It should be remembered that the real purpose of teacher preparation programs is to positively impact learning in the classrooms to which they are assigned."
Northwestern State University (NSU) is also working to recruit educators to work in rural schools in DeSoto, Grant, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine and West Carroll parishes. In addition to tapping community members who are interested in teaching but are not yet certified, the program plans to partner with several districts to engage high school juniors and seniors. The initiatives are called Providing Opportunities for Rural Teachers (PORT) and Providing Opportunities for Rural Students (PORS).
"Over 60 percent of teachers teach within 20 miles of where they went to high school," said Ramona Wynder, Principal Investigator of the two NSU initiatives, citing Dan Brown, Co-Director of nationalnetwork Educators Rising. "Therefore, PORT will be marketed to paraprofessionals, long-term substitutes and other aspiring teachers with deep roots in the community. And PORS will help encourage high school students to pursue careers in Education in hopes they will return to their home communities to live and work."
Kimberly McAlister,Head of the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Counselingin theNSU Gallaspy College of Education & Human Development,added: "This innovative work allows communities to assist in the recruitment and development of teachers to meet their current and future workforce needs."
Much like rural education, the need to prepare educators to teach all students, including those with special needs or significant disabilities, is critical. In 2015-16, special education was Louisiana's highest need certification area, with roughly one-quarter of special education classes being taught by out-of-field or uncertified teachers.
The University of New Orleans (UNO) is approaching this in two ways, said Helene J. Derbigny, Coordinator of Clinical Practice in the UNO College of Liberal Arts, Education, and Human Development. First, she said, the program is partnering with St. Charles Parish to offer a Master of Arts in Teaching dual certification program, taught by both university faculty and district staff, to recruit district employees and "innovatively increase the number of highly qualified special education teachers."
"A second Believe and Prepare expansion grant awarded to the University of New Orleans focuseson exploring effective delivery modelsin order to develop astatewideteacher preparation programin the area of significant disabilities," Derbigny said. "The Believe and Prepare grant will enable us to eventually work with universities and school districts across the state."
These teacher preparation initiatives, among the others taking place statewide, are imperative if we
expect our students to thrive, said BESE President Dr. Gary Jones, adding, "We must ensure that our aspiring teachers have the knowledge and classroom experience to foster that success."
"The year-long residency initiative supports quality teaching, and expanding the program ensures that more students across our state will benefit," Jones continued. "We currently have a need for experienced educators in rural Louisiana and in special education, and the expansion helps addresses the important issue of attracting and retaining teachers in these areas."
State Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Joseph C. Rallo agreedLouisiana must focus on creating a career pipeline of high-skilled laborers to address the state's evolving workforce needs--across the board and especially in K-12 education.
"K-12 teachers must be prepared to teach across the spectrum of students represented in our school districts," he said. "The innovative Believe and Prepare program is a natural extension of our teacher preparation programs and will meet the singular and distinctive requirements of our students-regardless of need or location-and ultimately guide them to success."
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