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California Rural Schools Struggling To Hire Teachers Could Get Help from $9.4 Million In Grants

This article and photo originally appeared in EdSource and are reprinted with permission.

Jennifer Garza, a 7th grade English teacher at Green Acres Middle School in Visalia, was teaching on an intern credential in 2015.

Two federal grants totaling over $9.4 million will help California recruit teachers and mental health professionals to rural schools.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the five-year grants to the California Center on Teaching Careers, an organization started in 2016 to help solve the persistent teacher shortage. The center is run by the Tulare County Office of Education, in partnership with California State University Bakersfield.

The Teacher Quality Partnership Grant for nearly $7 million will fund a teacher residency program in Visalia. That 18-month program, the Teacher Residency for Rural Education, will allow prospective teachers to earn a credential and a master’s degree in education from CSU Bakersfield.

The program is designed to bring teachers to rural communities, which often lack teacher preparation programs. The teacher shortage affects 82% of rural communities, according to a 2016 report from the Learning Policy Institute.

In Tulare County alone, there were over 600 teachers working with emergency permits and waivers in 2017-18, the most recent year for which data is available, said Donna Glassman-Sommer, executive director of the center.

During the first 12 months of the residency program, prospective teachers will spend three days each week co-teaching with a master teacher at schools in the Visalia Unified School District and one day a week taking teacher preparation coursework.

Visalia Unified will be given the first opportunity to hire residents, Glassman-Sommer said.

“Our program offers a unique intersection of theory, research and practical hands-on experience — all essential elements for an educator,” said Kristina LaGue, department chair of Teacher Education at CSU Bakersfield, in a statement. “Those aspects, combined with a year-long classroom clinical experience, while taking credential and master’s coursework through CSUB, is going to produce more well-rounded teachers. Teachers who are prepared to thrive in our classrooms—not just survive—those are the teachers who will stay.”

The center also has a partnership with Stanford University that will offer master teachers who work with the residents the opportunity to earn National Board Certification, Glassman-Sommer said.

The residency program, which begins next summer, will have a cohort of 20 to 25 residents each year over a four-year period.

The second grant, for $2.5 million, went to the Tulare Office of Education’s Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration program, which hires students earning master’s degrees in social work to work in schools in need of counselors, social workers and nurses.

The federal Project Rural Access to Mental Health Professionals grant will train school-based social workers in 12 Tulare County school districts, Glassman-Sommer said.

The recommended ratio of mental health professionals is one per 250 students, but California only has one per 682 students.

Glassman-Sommer would like to see the Visalia residency program expanded to rural, suburban and urban school districts across the state as part of the center’s efforts to reduce California’s teacher shortage.

“It seems like there are a lot of eyes on California because we are investing a lot trying to solve this problem,” said Glassman-Sommer from a conference in Virginia on teacher shortages Wednesday. “Our problem is deeper because we are so big. Our teachers are resources that are affecting the future of our state. If it were any other sector we would have people pounding at the doors to really solve this problem.”

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