Teacher-re­cruit­ment pro­gram in low gear

In first year, only 9 at work in poor schools

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - JAIME ADAME

FAYET­TEVILLE — A teacher re­cruit­ment ef­fort funded by a $10.2 mil­lion grant from the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion has trained nine teach­ers now work­ing in high-poverty schools, said Tom Smith, co-au­thor of the grant pro­posal.

It’s been a slower-than-an­tic­i­pated start for the first year of the Arkansas Academy for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity, Smith said.

The Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville-based ini­tia­tive en­listed 13 for its first teach­ing group. Ex­pec­ta­tions in­clude rais­ing that num­ber and tak­ing steps to lower the at­tri­tion rate, Smith said. When UA an­nounced the grant in De­cem­ber 2017, the stated goal was to re­cruit 150 to 200 li­censed teach­ers over three years.

“It’s funded for three years, and we likely will ex­tend that, sim­ply be­cause we didn’t re­ally gear up that much in year num­ber one. Whether or not it will con­tinue af­ter that will de­pend upon how suc­cess­ful we’ve been,” Smith, a UA pro­fes­sor and for­mer dean, said.

The academy re­cruits teach­ers who al­ready have class­room ex­pe­ri­ence, then has them com­plete a four­week sum­mer train­ing pro­gram on top­ics “in­clud­ing cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive teach­ing, self-aware­ness and bi­ases, in­te­gra­tion of data into the class­room, les­son plan­ning and feed­back, and learner vari­abil­ity,” ac­cord­ing to an academy re­port sub­mit­ted to the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

Teach­ers, some re­cently

ar­rived from out of state, are paid salaries through par­tic­i­pat­ing schools who sign on in part to add new teach­ers to their staffs.

For the teach­ers, Smith said the pro­gram of­fers a chance to earn a mas­ter’s de­gree with­out hav­ing to pay tu­ition costs, in ad­di­tion to giv­ing them on­go­ing sup­port and men­tor­ing from coaches on the academy staff. The twoyear mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gram in ed­u­ca­tional eq­uity is ex­pected to re­ceive state ap­proval this spring, ac­cord­ing to the academy’s web­site.

As a new ef­fort, the academy’s first year in­volved re­cruit­ing an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and staff, Smith said, with the first hire com­pleted in May. The lack of staffing early on af­fected re­cruit­ing, he said.

“Last year, a large part of our re­cruit­ment was with a con­trac­tor,” Smith said.

He said at­tri­tion took place be­cause “it was ba­si­cally just a bad match” be­tween teacher and school. The pro­gram is “al­ways go­ing to have some drop­ping out,” Smith said. But, he added, “we don’t want a 30 per­cent at­tri­tion rate.”

Smith said “we’re kind of learn­ing about some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that we need to be search­ing for” in teacher re­cruits.

The academy’s first ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Eric Mayes, be­gan work Dec. 3.

Mayes most re­cently was a fac­ulty mem­ber at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. At

UA, he earns a yearly salary of $200,000, said spokesman

Steve Voorhies.

Smith said Mayes was hired out of 84 ap­pli­cants.

The academy’s web­site lists seven staff mem­bers, and Smith said there have been two ad­di­tional teach­ing coaches hired on top of that. The group in­cludes lead­ers for re­cruit­ment and in­struc­tion, Smith said. While Mayes and other ad­min­is­tra­tors are based in Fayet­teville, teach­ing coaches have an of­fice in Lit­tle Rock, Smith said, with three coach­ing po­si­tions be­ing filled to ex­pand the sub­ject fo­cus be­yond math­e­mat­ics and lan­guage arts.

Hav­ing a team in place should make a dif­fer­ence with the next group of re­cruits, he said.

“What we’re look­ing for this year is more what we would have ex­pected had we been staffed up all the way [in the first year],” Smith said.

Day-to-day lead­er­ship du­ties now fall to Mayes, whose back­ground in­cludes play­ing foot­ball at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan. Mayes was a line­backer and co-cap­tain of the 1997 team that went un­de­feated.

He de­scribed hum­ble roots grow­ing up in small-town Michi­gan, the son of par­ents from Mis­sis­sippi and Mis­souri.

“They both grew up with ex­pe­ri­ences as share­crop­pers. They found them­selves up in Michi­gan as a re­sult of fol­low­ing the har­vest,” said Mayes, also a UA re­search as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor.

He cred­ited his par­ents and teach­ers with his suc­cess. Mayes earned bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s de­grees from the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, a doc­tor­ate in ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­ogy from Howard Univer­sity, and a post­doc­toral mas­ter’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and man­age­ment from Har­vard.

“I’ve been a class­room teacher. I’ve worked in schools. I’ve ad­vo­cated for ed­u­ca­tional eq­uity,” said Mayes, who at Johns Hop­kins was an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion with an em­pha­sis in en­tre­pre­neur­ial lead­er­ship in ed­u­ca­tion.

In Arkansas — Mayes said he had not vis­ited be­fore ap­ply­ing for the job — he said he’s made var­i­ous road trips to meet with school of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing to Du­mas in the state’s Delta and other towns in ru­ral ar­eas.

“I see great po­ten­tial in peo­ple and in their com­mu­ni­ties. I see a great need for ad­di­tional sup­port and re­sources, on a mul­ti­tude of lev­els,” Mayes said.

A main mis­sion for the academy in­volves help­ing schools that may not see the same num­ber of ap­pli­cants for teach­ing po­si­tions as else­where in the state, Smith said.

Bar­bara Gar­ner, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for the Cros­sett School Dis­trict, said in an email that it’s true that re­cruit­ing teach­ers is dif­fi­cult.

“We have re­cruited teach­ers from Teach for Amer­ica be­fore with good suc­cess, but those can­di­dates are no longer avail­able to us so we thought this could be a good re­source for us to re­cruit teach­ers,” Gar­ner said.

Teach for Amer­ica, founded in 1990 to at­tract teach­ers to low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties, had in­formed Cros­sett schools that the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not have enough peo­ple to meet the needs of school dis­tricts in south­east Arkansas, Gar­ner said.

“I thought [the Arkansas Academy for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity] was es­pe­cially good be­cause the can­di­dates al­ready have their teach­ing li­cense and are work­ing on their mas­ter’s,” Gar­ner said.

Ul­ti­mately no new hires re­sulted for Cros­sett schools in the 2018-19 school year, Gar­ner said. But she said a teacher al­ready em­ployed by the dis­trict is re­ceiv­ing train­ing and work­ing on her mas­ter’s de­gree through the pro­gram.

Along with the Cros­sett School Dis­trict, other school par­tic­i­pants in 2018-19 have been: El Do­rado School Dis­trict, Ex­alt Academy of South­west Lit­tle Rock, He­lena-West He­lena School Dis­trict, KIPP Delta Pub­lic Schools and Lee County School Dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to the re­port sub­mit­ted to the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

In Cros­sett Mid­dle School, 65 per­cent of the 478 stu­dents in 2018-19 are con­sid­ered low-in­come, ac­cord­ing to state data, a per­cent­age based on stu­dents who qual­ify for free or re­duced-price school meals.

In 2018-19, a four-per­son house­hold with an an­nual in­come of up to $32,630 qual­i­fies for free meals un­der fed­eral guide­lines and with an an­nual in­come up to $46,435 qual­i­fies for re­duced-price meals.

Molly Kop­plin teaches math­e­mat­ics at Bar­ton Ju­nior High School in El Do­rado. The south Arkansas school has 650 stu­dents and a poverty rate of 65 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to state data.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence in the academy is “pos­i­tive and ben­e­fi­cial,” she said in an email.

Academy staff mem­bers “con­sis­tently chal­lenge me to be a bet­ter ver­sion of my­self as a per­son and as an ed­u­ca­tor, par­tic­u­larly in mak­ing math ac­ces­si­ble, cre­at­ing an in­clu­sive class­room cul­ture, and rec­og­niz­ing and grow­ing my stu­dents as they are,” Kop­plin wrote.

Kop­plin, 29, said she moved to Arkansas from Wis­con­sin, but she worked from 2014-16 as a teacher in Cam­den through Teach for Amer­ica.

She said she re­spected the de­ci­sions of for­mer col­leagues to leave the pro­gram, adding that teacher turnover rates in gen­eral are wor­thy of many stud­ies.

The at­tri­tion is not some­thing to ig­nore, but some­thing that the academy, which she re­ferred to as AAEE, can ad­dress, she said.

“Learn­ing is see­ing where you can im­prove and then do­ing so, and I have no doubt that the AAEE will take this as an op­por­tu­nity to bet­ter it­self,” Kop­plin said.

One re­cruit out of the 13-per­son ini­tial group “was dis­missed from the pro­gram due to a fail­ure to meet Academy ex­pec­ta­tions,” ac­cord­ing to the academy re­port, which listed a due date to the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion of Oct. 1, 2018. In Au­gust, UA an­nounced that 12 teach­ers had com­pleted the sum­mer train­ing pro­gram.

An­other teacher re­signed, the re­port states. While the re­port stated that 11 teach­ers were in the pro­gram, Smith said the num­ber is now nine. Those who left “self-se­lected to exit the pro­gram,” he said, adding that there’s an ef­fort by Mayes to fol­low up with the for­mer academy teach­ers.

Along with Mayes and the staff, there is now an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of “pub­lic school folks” that met for the first time in De­cem­ber, Smith said.

For any fu­ture teach­ing re­cruit, “I think we’re look­ing for some­one who’s, num­ber one, com­mit­ted to work­ing and liv­ing in a high-need school dis­trict. And that’s not al­ways an easy task,” Smith said. Mayes said he wants to “pre­pare them for the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.”

Smith said the en­tire ef­fort ul­ti­mately will be judged on stu­dent out­comes, such as achieve­ment test scores, pass­ing rates and the num­ber of be­hav­ioral re­fer­rals.

“We’re re­ally com­mit­ted to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, and we think that we’re on the right track. It’s pretty ex­cit­ing that we’re try­ing some dif­fer­ent things,” Smith said.

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