$2.44 Million Grant to Increase Number of Certified Teachers

$2.44 Million Grant to Increase Number of Certified Teachers – Sep 10, 2004

For Immediate Release: September 10, 2004
Contact: Catherine Heitman, 225-342-6950 or 219-0265

MONROE, La. – Four Louisiana universities will share in a $2.44 million federal grant to increase the number of certified teachers in 21 of the state’s poorest school districts.

McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe will use the funding to attract outstanding candidates into areas of critical teaching shortages. Through the programs, universities will recruit 575 professionals from diverse backgrounds and train them to teach.

Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-Quitman) presented the “Transition to Teaching” grant to UL Monroe President James Cofer at a press conference today. Funded through the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the five-year grant was initiated by the University of Louisiana System and the New Teacher Project.

UL System President Sally Clausen commended Cofer for administering the grant and Alexander for helping to secure the funding.

“Our biggest challenge in Louisiana is to ensure that every child has a qualified certified teacher. Although we’re making great strides, there still are about 100,000 children in our state who are being left behind because they have teachers who are not certified in their content area. I’m proud that our four universities are playing such a major role in addressing this issue,” Clausen said.

She pointed to figures released last month by the Louisiana Department of Education that showed an increase in the percentage of certified teachers, the first rise in a decade. “Our universities played a significant part in that improvement and will continue to do so. This is one more example of what our state can accomplish when universities and schools work together.”

The Transition to Teaching Grant Program is designed to support projects that increase the number of highly-qualified teachers by recruiting and retaining mid-career professionals (including qualified paraprofessionals) and recent college graduates who have not majored in education. Through alternative routes to certification, these candidates train to become teachers in high-need schools and districts.

“There is no more important factor in student achievement than the quality of instruction,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie. “Alternative certification programs which attract college graduates from outside the education field to the classroom are a very effective means of addressing our shortage of qualified teachers. Today’s grant announcement is great news for Louisiana’s school children.”

Program participants receive training and support to teach in high-need schools and districts for at least three years in the areas of special education, math, science and elementary education. The program emphasizes teacher retention through mentoring, tracking, counseling, scholarships, and redesigned graduate programs.

“We know that a quality teacher in the classroom is one of the best indicators of student success,” said State Superintendent of Education Cecil J. Picard. “Alternate certification programs are just another tool for our school districts to use in their quest to find the best teachers available for their students and we welcome the continued partnership of the higher education community.”

The four universities involved in the grant have existing alternate certification programs and have recruited and trained hundreds of new teachers over the past year alone through their work with the New Teacher Project. The New Teacher Project is a non-profit consulting organization that partners with school districts, states and other educational entities to enhance their capacity to recruit, select, train, and support outstanding new teachers.

“Our partner campuses have undertaken a significant effort to recruit candidates with demonstrated records of achievement into education, successfully doubling their alternative certification enrollment. This grant will enable these universities to institutionalize their programs, growing the pipeline of excellent teachers, especially in critical areas such as math, science, special education and middle grades,” said Meredyth Hudson, regional director of The New Teacher Project.

The 21 school districts served by the grant are Allen, Assumption, Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Grant, Madison, Monroe City, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. James, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Tensas and Union. They were selected based on their rate of poverty and their percentage of certified teachers.

“Since I was elected to Congress, I’ve fought hard to improve America’s education system because I realize that our nation’s future depends on it,” Alexander said. “This program will enhance our classrooms by finding mid-career professionals and entrusting them to teach our children. I represent one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States, and I know that our nation’s success in the future will be impacted by how we educate our children today.”

Presidents of the four universities involved in the project said they look forward to working together to strengthen their work with schools and districts.

“We are delighted to be able to work with these other fine institutions in our system,” Cofer said. “The shortage of certified teachers in our state’s classrooms is a problem we are all addressing through this grant. We are grateful to the UL System and their efforts to make this possible. We also want to express gratitude to Congressman Alexander for his assistance in securing this funding.”

Nicholls President Stephen Hulbert said, “We at Nicholls State University plan to continue our efforts to recruit qualified teachers into the profession, but we also plan to focus more on helping retain new classroom teachers. While the school districts do a great job of mentoring these teachers, they need additional support and this is where the University may be of assistance. Nicholls State University recognizes that mentoring is not just a school district function, it is a community function, and our goal is to develop a unique University-based mentoring program to support school districts and classroom teachers.”

Northwestern President Randall J. Webb said, “Northwestern has a long tradition of training and supporting outstanding teachers. This grant will allow us to collaborate with institutions in our system to address a critical need facing some of our rural school systems. Northwestern has worked successfully with the New Teacher Project. We know there are many people from diverse backgrounds who know how important good teachers are and want to be part of this important profession.”

McNeese President Robert Hebert said, “Funds from this grant will be used to enhance an already thriving alternative teacher certification program at McNeese. Teach Southwest Louisiana is our initiative to identify exceptional community members with diverse educational backgrounds who recognize the challenges and rewards of teaching and want to commit to making a difference in classrooms throughout Southwest Louisiana.”