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Radio Interviews Spotlight ‘Nevada Leads,’ Advocacy, Innovation in Teacher Prep

AACTE members Melissa Burnham and Jafeth Sanchez of the University of Nevada Reno were featured guests on a recent Education Talk Radio show, discussing the “Nevada Leads” principal preparation initiative with their district partner Salwa Jafi. Other guests included AACTE’s Deborah Koolbeck, highlighting current advocacy work in Washington, and Interim Dean Vanessa Anton and Interim Provost Deb Landry of Northeastern State University (OK), who described their award-winning Robotics Academy of Critical Engagement (RACE) program.

The interviews took place in person with host Larry Jacobs at the AACTE 70th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, last month.

Jafi, who directs the department of professional learning in Reno’s Washoe County School District, explained that Nevada Leads is a collaborative effort working to redesign the master’s degree in educational leadership, based on the recommendations of the 2015 Wallace Foundation report.

Jacobs asked why the principal pipeline needs improvement. Jafi said the district wanted to avoid having to provide support and training to new principals, and they sought to partner with UNR to ease the disconnect.

“We were not doing the job that we needed to,” conceded Burnham, in sending profession-ready principals to Washoe, their partner district. “We want to be the best we can be. We are really interested in using data to make improvements to our programs, and when we had data from our school district telling us that our education leaders were not coming out fully prepared, we wanted to make a big difference. So we joined hands and created an awesome program.”

The first cohort of 25 principals going through the new program will graduate in December. One of the major revisions, Sanchez explained, was embedding field experiences throughout the program rather than only offering it at the end. The program also positions a professor and a practicing principal as coteachers in classes, affording students direct access to someone in the field as well as a researcher. The program delivery also changed dramatically, “flipping” from afterschool course work to more online and hybrid delivery to better meet the candidates’ needs.

“It’s working out really well,” Burnham said, citing one mentor principal who said he was eager to pass his baton to a new leader who was trained in this impactful way. Jafi agreed, noting that the district’s current principals are key assistants in identifying prospective candidates for Nevada Leads – the second cohort of which was recently admitted.

In the next segment, Jacobs interviewed Koolbeck, who serves as AACTE’s government relations director. Asked what she advocates for with Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, Koolbeck cited funding first, noting the importance of the Teacher Quality Partnership grant program and TEACH grants as well as Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act. She said advocacy and Capitol Hill meetings are largely about finding consensus points to leverage, which currently are focused mostly on funding given the present congressional agenda.

The guests from Northeastern State University (NSU) heard Jacobs’ concerns about low enrollment in teacher preparation programs and the challenge of preparing teachers who are ready for today’s classrooms. Anton said the RACE program, which won this year’s AACTE Best Practice Award for the Innovative Use of Technology, engages teacher candidates with children in exciting and deep ways that get everyone thinking critically together, which pays off in myriad ways.

Landry, who oversaw the launch of the RACE program when she was education dean, said it was inspired by a visit to Taiwan where robotics featured prominently. “I kept thinking about that and thinking that’s what was missing [from our program],” she said – incorporating a STEM focus in an appealing and inclusive way.

Learn more by listening to the recording here, and find other episodes of Education Talk Radio at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk.

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Kristin McCabe

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