Teacher training draws $2.2 million to Waco area

WACO — Waco will receive grants to strengthen the current teacher workforce and improve the pipeline of qualified teachers with the support of a $2.2 million grant over three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first initiative, University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation, supports universities in the transformation of their program to financially sustainable, year-long residencies. Coalition member include Texas Tech University and Tarleton State University – both building and scaling a year-long residency that will produce well-prepared teachers in the Waco region in partnership with local school districts.

An Opportunity Culture grant will fund a creative staffing model that focuses on supporting sustainable residencies that are affordable for candidates at Waco and La Vega school districts. It also calls for creation of Greater Waco Teacher Community of Practice, a coalition of decision makers and stakeholders who will improve equity and quality for the teacher pipeline for all school districts in McLennan County.

Finally, the Center for Transforming Alternative Preparation Pathways (CTAPP), will provide support to McLennan Community College as it is innovating to improve its alternative teacher certification program.

“COVID-19 has put stress and demands on every school in Waco,” said Suzii Paynter March, CEO of Prosper Waco. “The strength and resiliency of the teaching profession is also under duress, and as a community we are using these opportunities to rally support for teachers of today and to recruit and grow strong teachers for tomorrow.

“The Greater Waco Teacher Community of Practice will be a forum of education leaders for discussion and innovation as we consider the entire teacher workforce landscape in our region,” March said.

The Opportunity Culture grant is designed to “leverage high-performing teachers in a multi-classroom leadership model,” Pereira said. In other words, it seeks to build on the excellence of the most effective teachers and will do that in conjunction with Texas Tech’s teacher residency program in Waco.

“One of the challenges that Waco ISD faces is a higher teacher turnover rate than many other districts,” said Susan Kincannon, Waco ISD superintendent. “We hope that the Opportunity Culture model will help retain our best teachers by offering them new opportunities to grow as educational leaders and better prepare the new teachers who will follow them in the classroom.”

“La Vega ISD is thrilled about the opportunity to participate in the Opportunity Culture grant,” said Sharon Shields, La Vega ISD superintendent. “The OC objectives support and expand on existing efforts in La Vega. The impact of OC in LVISD is unlimited. The potential and opportunity to replicate our most effective teachers will further improve our instructional programs leading to student success.”

US PREP, based in Lubbock, will work with the two universities – Texas Tech and Tarleton – in implementing sustainable, year-long residencies.

Public Impact, out of Chapel Hill, N.C., will work with the two school districts in implementing the Opportunity Culture program. The grant will fund a coordinator position at each district.

The second grant brings CTAPP to Waco. CTAPP, established in the Houston area, provides technical assistance to alternative teacher certification (ACP) programs, like the one already in existence at MCC.

“Most public school teachers in Texas pursue certification through the traditional route of earning a bachelor’s degree in teaching,” said Pereira. “But many people seek teacher certification after earning a degree in another academic area and working outside of education.

“This grant will bring specific expertise to Waco that enhances the alternative certification process for those who want to teach but do not have a teaching degree,” Pereira said.

Frank Graves, dean of workforce and public service at MCC, said: “McLennan Community College’s Alternative Teacher Education Program is excited about the partnership with CTAPP. The technical assistance and resources will enhance our program delivery and increase our teacher preparation mentoring process’s effectiveness.”

As part of the grant, CTAPP’s two employees became a part of the Prosper Waco staff in September — Chris Reid, director, and Mia O’Suji, director of content development and programming.

Reid and O’Suji have worked closely with Kristi Patton, MCC’s Alternative Teacher Program director, and her team to create a comprehensive plan, Graves said. “The result will be more highly trained teachers entering our local school districts.”

Reid noted that there is a teacher shortage in Texas and there also is a lack of quality teacher candidates. The state has created an environment for creation of ACPs to meet the training need. By partnering with ACPs, like the one at MCC, CTAPP provides “high-quality technical assistance to support the implementation of a rigorous, equitable teacher preparation model aimed at improving the quality of educators in classrooms.”

The Greater Waco Teacher Community of Practice is “designed to study the teacher pipeline in McLennan County with the intention of making improvements to the pipeline as a community,” Pereira said. “The pandemic has exposed areas of improvement in the field of education, and we are seeing that no one institution can do it alone. Together we must make the necessary improvements in order to have the teacher workforce needed for the future of our community.”

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