Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

UA event spotlights educator recruiting


FAYETTEVILLE — To combat the ongoing teacher shortage, it’s imperative to make the profession more attractive to more candidates and facilitate moves into the classroom through alternative means, according to several education experts who were part of Monday’s inaugural “Grow Your Own Educators Convening,” hosted by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville College of Education and Health Professions Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“We know we need certified, qualified teachers” — 30% of school districts in Arkansas currently operate with at least 10% of uncertified teachers in those roles — “we need to expand the pipeline and recruit,” said Maria Touchstone, recruitment and retention program adviser in the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

There are “so many great paraprofessionals [who] just need a way” to become

teachers, she added.

That’s why initiatives like REACH (Retooling Educa- tors and Paraprofessionals to Achieve Teacher Credentialing) — which is based at UA-Fayetteville and helps paraprofessionals obtain associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and initial licensure in elementary education, as well as English as a Second Language certification — are so critical, Touchstone said.

“Every child deserves a great teacher,” she said.

Transitioning from paraprofessional to teacher can double — or more — an educator’s salary, an economic impact that also filters down to that individual’s family, said Diana Gonzales Worthen, director of Project ELEVATE (Ensuring Learner Equity Via Advocacy and Teacher Education), a professional development partnership between UA-Fayetteville, Northwest Arkansas Community College, North Arkansas College, the Springdale School District, Decatur School District and the Green Forest School District.

“We all have community members who already work in our schools who want to be teachers, and it can be done” through efforts like REACH and ELEVATE, Gonzales Worthen said.

Austin Schrader, a registrar at Northwest Arkansas Community College, said it’s imperative to get potential educators into the teaching pipeline and keep them in it by connecting them with resources. Schrader, who has extensive experience with projects REACH and ELEVATE, went on to say that each potential teacher has his or her own “individual

story and pathway.”

In Springdale Public Schools, “we work diligently to try to grow our own,” said Superintendent Jared Cleveland. Qualified candidates have myriad options, and other professions can offer higher wages, so “we work a lot on culture and the benefits of being a teacher.”

“There’s an intrinsic value in helping someone enlighten their mind, [and] the best recruiters are our classroom teachers,” because they inspire students to become teachers, he said. “They are laying the foundation, because they are who [youth] want to emulate.”

Through the Ignite program in Bentonville Public Schools — which gives juniors and seniors the chance to gain work-based learning experience, industry-valued credentials and high-quality classroom instruction across nine different career areas, including Education Innovation — Emily Burns has learned more about teaching through seminars, workshops and internships, but she’s also plugged into a network of education professionals, she said Monday. She already has her paraprofessional certification, and by the end of this year she’ll be certified to start working in classrooms.

“[It’s] what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.

Burns’ classmate, Brett Potts, said he has appreciated the “really immersive experience” of Ignite, and he now knows exactly what he wants for his career.

“I know I want to [teach] junior high science,” he said.

As it stands, 40 states,

including Arkansas, offer some financial support for Grow Your Own (GYO) initiatives, which are partnerships between educator preparation programs, school districts and community organizations to attenuate local teacher shortages by recruiting and preparing local community members to enter the profession and teach for extended periods in their communities, said Amaya Garcia, director of PreK-12 Research and Practice with the Education Policy program at New America, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on a wide range of public policy issues, including education. The GYO programs also aim to increase the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the teaching workforce.

These teaching candidates ought to have resilience, grit and perseverance, as students — and their families — can see themselves in educators with those qualities, said Conra D. Gist, an associate professor at the University of Houston and the leader of the Educator Diversity Research Practice Partnership in Houston. In the end, GYO programs ought to connect to justice and equity in teacher development, place the community at the center of teacher preparation and center Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) voices for iterative refinement and impact, Gist said.

A new GYO initiative from UA-Fayetteville is Razorback STARS (Strong Teachers for Arkansas Rural Students), a teacher-quality partnership grant co-funded by the university and the U.S. Department of Education to serve underrepresented students in rural schools in Northwest Arkansas, said Christina Ralston, teaching associate professor and assistant

department head in the College of Education and Health Professions. The Decatur School District is already a partner, “but we’re looking for other partner” districts, she said.

The Arkansas Teacher Residency Apprenticeship Program is another GYO pathway, with participants serving as apprentices in schools while earning a wage, said Touchstone, who learned English in American public schools after arriving in the United States from Mexico, taught for more than three decades and now helps “others become teachers.” Upon completion, apprentices have four-year degrees, teaching licenses and nationally recognized apprenticeship certifications.

Paula Wheeler is “already thinking about who I can add” to the apprenticeship program in her Elkins School District, the district curriculum coordinator said Monday. It’s effective, and teaching is “one of the most rewarding careers,” she said.

Monday’s convening received funding and support from the Walton Family Foundation, which has also supported initiatives like REACH and ELEVATE to ameliorate teacher recruitment and education in Arkansas, said Gonzalez Worthen, a member of the curriculum and instruction staff at UA-Fayetteville.

“Teachers are needed everywhere, but we need more in Arkansas, and that’s what this program today is all about,” she said.

It’s “inspiring to see so many here committed to community schools,” and that’s absolutely a commitment shared by UA-Fayetteville’s College of Education and Health Professions, said Dean Kate Mamiseishvili. “I’m a believer in Grow Your Own programs.”

Northwest Arkansas