Teacher prep program eases path to certification for career changers

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This spring, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) will graduate its inaugural class of fully certified teachers—31 career changers who pledged to teach five years for CPS in exchange for a free master’s degree and a paid residency under award-winning mentors.

By paying student teachers and cutting by half the time it takes to earn an advanced degree in education, AUSL has removed the roadblocks of time and money that keep many from switching to a teaching career. The program is the latest brainchild of venture capitalist Martin “Mike” Koldyke, founder of the Golden Apple Foundation, which operates a fast-track alternative certification program for math and science teachers.

“The private sector has been doing this for 40 years—paying [rookies] to go through extended training programs,” asserts Koldyke, who cites Procter & Gamble as an example. As corporations look to tap homegrown talent for leadership roles, AUSL is grooming its residents “in the hopes they will stay for many years and become master teachers, lead teachers and some, principals,” he adds.

AUSL tapped Madeleine Maraldi, the well-regarded former principal of Washington Irving Elementary, to lead its teacher-training component, and partnered with National-Louis University, which adapted its two-year master of arts in teaching degree to fit the program’s one-year format.

“We didn’t want an alternative certification here, we wanted a full certification,” says Barbara Leys, who reports to Maraldi as associate director and previously served as a liaison between AUSL and National-Louis.

During the summer before school opens, residents take a sampling of their graduate education courses to prepare them for working in classrooms. Once school resumes in the fall, residents switch to evening courses twice a week. Their days are spent observing, tutoring and eventually teaching at The Chicago Academy, a pre-kindergarten through 7th grade school in Belmont-Cragin where education theories can be put to practical use.

The residents join full-time faculty in grade-level and cross-grade team meetings and work closely with their mentors to plan and execute lessons. During second semester, each resident will lead a classroom solo for two weeks, teaching a self-designed unit under the observation of a National-Louis professor.

AUSL is expensive. It pays resident teachers a $30,000 stipend and waives tuition for National-Louis. Those expenses, which totaled more than $1.1 million this year, were picked up by CPS and several area foundations.

The cost could be worth it if the residents remain in the system for five or more years. “They might be saving money,” observes Barnett Berry, director of the Southeast Center on Teaching Quality at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Residents are selected through a rigorous process involving written and oral presentations. AUSL seeks applicants, recent college grads or career changers, who have not been enrolled in traditional teacher-preparation programs.

“Regardless of age, we’re looking for maturity and a clear sense of mission coupled with sufficient training,” Koldyke says. “Teaching is a very tough job. You can’t just put raw amateurs in the classroom and expect them to succeed. It’s not fair.”

AUSL Director Kelly Wilson says it would take longer to prepare college students to take on the level of leadership she hopes residents can assume quickly. “We want to get them into the field so they can do the work,” says Kelly, a recent graduate of New Leaders for New Schools, an alternative certification program for principals. “We’re not just training teachers, we’re training teacher leaders.”

The Chicago Academy, which currently serves 450 students, employs 16 mentor teachers who are paired with 31 residents. Next year, AUSL expects to expand to 40 residents when the school adds an 8th grade. The program also plans to serve another 36 residents at a second site to open at the former Dodge Elementary, which was closed last spring. (See story)

Mentor teachers at The Chicago Academy had a year to get the school started before they took on the extra task of mentoring residents. That won’t be the case at Dodge. “On balance, [Dodge] would like to have the luxury of a shakedown year, [but] I think the feeling is the need is great to produce residents,” Koldyke says.

Patricia Bauldrick, slated to become principal at Dodge, says her priority in making that happen is hiring top-notch mentors. “That’s what I’m in the process of doing now—interviewing [candidates] and visiting various school sites.”

AUSL sparked a new management relationship between central office, outside partners and schools. When Koldyke first approached CPS about running a school, officials considered giving him a charter. “But it didn’t seem to make much sense” to use charters to train teachers to work in regular public schools, recalls Greg Richmond, CPS director of charter schools.

Instead, they took a fresh look at a provision of the 1995 reform law that permitted the Board of Education to privatize services. Until then, the provision had been used primarily to contract for custodial and other support services. It had never been applied to hiring outside groups to provide educational services.

As a contract school, The Chicago Academy is more similar to regular public schools than it is to charters, which are freed from many provisions of the state School Code. For instance, the school principal reports to an Area Instructional Officer and teachers have union representation. However, the school admits its students via lottery rather than neighborhood attendance boundaries, and it is governed by AUSL’s board of directors, not an LSC.

(Among the directors on AUSL’s board are Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management, Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, and Peggy Davis, chief of staff to schools CEO Arne Duncan.)

The Chicago Academy is housed in the former Wright College South building, which CPS leases from City Colleges of Chicago. The school receives per-pupil and discretionary funding like other public schools. AUSL has raised money to pay for auditorium renovations and laptop computers for every teacher and resident.

Seeking diversity

The Chicago Academy is dissimilar from many other CPS schools in another respect: demographics. It has fewer low-income children and a lower percentage of minorities enrolled (23 percent Latino, 10 percent African American) than the district average. Students perform much better on standardized tests—last year 82 percent scored at or above national norms in reading.

Elsewhere in the district, where residents are likely to be placed, schools are more likely to be 85 percent low income and 87 percent minority, with fewer than 44 percent of students scoring at or above average in reading.

The student population at Dodge next fall is expected to more closely resemble other district schools, offering residents there a teaching experience likely to simulate schools where they land first jobs.

Meanwhile, the Academy would like to enroll more African-Americans like Karen Veal, whose family moved from Oak Park into Chicago two years ago.

Veal homeschooled her daughter until she learned about the Academy’s academically challenging program. “I’m thrilled there are enough teachers here to give her the help she needs,” observes Veal, whose 7th-grade daughter gets extra tutoring in math.

While extra help in the classroom means a lot to parents, teacher retention experts credit AUSL for giving residents a gradual entry into teaching. “They’re not expecting their novices to be the individual teacher of record from the get-go,” observes Berry. “That’s not a good thing. The more that teachers have preparation, the less likely they are to leave.”

Residents’ academic and practical preparation may improve on traditional methods of preparing teachers. National-Louis professors working with residents appreciate the easy tie-in between theory and practice, a luxury they don’t always get with traditional education majors. “We talk about something in class one day and they go in the next day and try it out.” says Jane Moore, assistant professor who teaches mathematics methods.

Andre Cowling, a resident who teaches 5th-graders math, says connecting the two had further sparked his own desire to learn. One of his favorite events is Family Math Night, where children and parents played math games designed by teachers. “We got to interact with our mentor teacher, students and parents,” he says. “You can’t learn that from professors who’ve been out of the classroom since Moses [parted the]water.”

To keep the support network going, AUSL will place residents in groups of four or five in their assigned schools so they will remain connected to colleagues with whom they’ve built relationships. Maraldi says she is looking at schools that show academic improvement and where the principals expect ownership and involvement from their staffs.

Special care is needed to keep new teachers in the system, says Feinstein. “It all stems from their first job satisfaction,” he explains. “If we’re going to put rookie teachers in a school, you want to give them a team where there’s some indication these things are in place.”

A formal evaluation of AUSL’s teacher-training program, however, is several years away, after the first group of residents have been on their first jobs for a year or more.

Parents, though, say they are already impressed. Abigail Fernandez says her daughter has continued to receive rigorous instruction even though the master teacher, a Golden Apple winner, was out for six weeks on maternity leave. While she was away, two residents, Adlin Carrión and Aileen Lopez, ran the 1st-grade class. (A substitute teacher was also in the room.)

“I can honestly say, with this group of residents, I feel very comfortable with how they treat the children,” Fernandez says. “They challenge the children. I think they will succeed.”

For more information about the Academy for Urban School Leadership and The Chicago Academy, visit their web sites at www.ausl-chicago.org and www.chicagoacademy.org.