• UWA receives $3 million US Dept. of Education grant for rural teacher initiative

    Posted: October 05, 2016

    Author: Public Relations

    The University of West Alabama has just been named one of only four recipients for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) program. UWA’s Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education will receive $1.2 million for the first year, and a total of more than $3 million over the five-year grant period. The funding will help UWA to recruit, train, and support teachers in rural communities.

    The TQP program funds innovative teacher preparation models to improve the preparedness of prospective and new teachers serving high-need communities. UWA’s College of Education will put the funding to work for its Rethinking Rural Education Preparation Programs Initiative (REP).

    “The ultimate goal of the REP initiative is to prepare and retain quality teachers for teaching in high-need rural schools and to improve academic achievement of students in high-need rural schools,” explained Dr. Jan Miller, dean of the college, and Dr. Denise Knight, REP project director. “This initiative will include authentic classroom-based action research and full-time rigorous clinical experience whereby pre-service teachers will work intensively with carefully selected mentor teachers who are trained to use a co-planning/co-teaching model.”

    Miller said that a key factor in the initiative’s success will be the opportunity for teachers in the program to work closely with education students on a schedule that allows the college student to have a more inclusive experience of the full scale of a school year. These place-based experiences immerse pre-service, or future, teachers in opportunities that build an understanding of the culture of the rural school as a basic component of teacher preparation.

    “Most of the time, our students are on such a different schedule from the K-12 school where they will observe that they do not have the opportunity to be part of some of the most important times of year for teachers,” she said. “Because college terms typically begin weeks or more after K-12 schools, students do not get the opportunity to be part of the planning and first weeks of the class they’re observing, but this initiative will change that.”

    Through the program, teachers in participating systems will train with faculty from the college. UWA faculty and administrators say the initiative will reform the Educator Preparation Programs (K-6) at UWA and do the same for participating school systems. A stipend will be given to these teachers.

    “This initiative will help to develop a comprehensive reform of participating systems for rural teacher recruitment, preparation, clinical experience, and induction/mentoring to improve student achievement by improving the quality of new and veteran teachers,” Knight said. “In addition, the initiative will likely serve as a model for other universities who seek to prepare pre-service teachers and support current teachers in rural schools.”

    UWA President Ken Tucker said that this is the largest single competitive, non-recurring grant that UWA has ever been awarded.

    “Our College of Education and Sponsored Programs team did a fantastic job, and everyone is so excited about this opportunity,” Tucker said. “This program is a giant step forward for our teacher education programs, and it empowers UWA to continue to build on its foundational mission of providing superior teachers to our region, thus strengthening our future through the quality of education they are able to provide to children in the school systems in which they teach.”

    Miller, Knight and Tucker echoed U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in saying that programs like this provide the resources that teachers and schools need to bring innovation to the teaching profession.

    Since 2009, some $400 million has been invested by the TQP grant program. UWA joins Coppin State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and University of New Hampshire in this year’s group of grantees.

    “The shortage of teachers exists nationwide, but there are fields whose shortages are prevalent in rural schools, and those will be some of our top focuses for this initiative,” Miller said. “We’ve identified these four areas, the 4N1 Track, as early childhood, elementary, collaborative special education, and early childhood special education. We strive to ensure that our instruction aligns with state and national standards and reforms. Currently, UWA’s College of Education is working with the Alabama State Department of Education’s continuous improvement process to gain program approval for the 4N1 track with an expected start date of August 2017.

    UWA will sign on partner school systems to launch the initiative. Demopolis City Schools and Sumter County Schools are the first partners.

    “We identified these two systems based on a set of criteria developed by our team to establish a needs assessment,” Knight said. “Administrators with both systems have been instrumental in our application process and have graciously provided us the information we needed to establish our plans.”

    With the REP initiative, UWA will provide support training for instructional leaders to lead high functioning rural schools with the goal of improving student academic achievement. The initiative is expected to be data-driven, allowing for targeted professional development. Ultimately, REP will provide partnering schools with expert teachers who are well prepared in content, concepts, pedagogy, instructional practices, and clinical experiences that support rural students’ achievements.

    Seven members of the University faculty and staff are on Project REP’s grant writing team. Dr. Jan Miller is the project administrator; Dr. Denise Knight is the project director; Dr. Andrea Minear and Dr. Esther Howard are the educator preparation program specialists; Dr. Yan Sun is the evaluation coordinator; Dr. Sallie Harper is the professional development coordinator; and Dr. J.J. Wedgworth is director of research integrity.

    To learn more about UWA’s Rethinking Rural Education Preparation Programs Initiative, contact the Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education at 205-652-3865 or visit www.uwa.edu/coe.
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