In Chicago, new efforts to recruit junior teachers, with federal money

Two new initiatives to recruit and support future teachers in some of Chicago’s neediest public schools are receiving an injection of federal funds.

Chicago Public Schools and DePaul University are receiving a collective $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education, part of a larger grant program to support innovative ways to enroll, prepare and retain more educators, especially teachers of color.

The district’s program aims to offer more help and guidance to student teachers — future educators working on district campuses as they pursue licensing — in high-poverty, hard-to-reach schools. staff across the city.

DePaul University is preparing to place 800 new teachers – career changers and recent graduates in fields outside of education – to teach special education, math and other hard-to-fill roles in neighborhood schools in need over the next five years.

The department announced the grants this week as U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and First Lady Jill Biden embarked on a week-long bus tour to showcase promising pandemic recovery efforts, including those aimed at address the shortage of teachers.

District officials said in a statement that its new student-teacher program will work to recruit and retain more veteran teachers of color to pair them with newbie teachers in the classroom, offering additional support and mentorship. to both groups. The effort aims to build on existing programs to create a pipeline for more diverse educators, including Teach Chicago Tomorrow, which steers students across the district toward careers in education.

The district has credited Teach Chicago Tomorrow, among other efforts, with increasing the proportion of newly hired teachers who are black or Latino to about half of all new educators this school year.

“We know that teachers make a profound difference in the lives of our students every day and that impact can be even greater when a teacher looks like and understands their students,” said district spokeswoman Mary Ann Fergus, in a statement.

Teacher and staff turnover is a constant challenge for the district.

After increasing the number of staff positions during the pandemic and seeing retirements and resignations in some positions increase, the CPS has seen a slight increase in the number of vacancies at the start of the school year. He reported a vacancy rate of nearly 5%, down from nearly 3.5% in the first week of the 2021-22 school year.

Here and in other districts, some teaching positions — especially those in special education, science, math and others — remain hard to fill. Additionally, recruiting and retaining black and Latino male teachers continued to be a challenge: Latino men, for example, make up about 5% of Chicago teachers, even though Latino boys make up nearly a quarter. of all students.

The federal money awarded this week from the Teacher Quality Partnership grant program aims to address these issues, supporting efforts in which school districts and teacher preparation programs partner more closely. This fall, 22 initiatives nationwide received a total of $24.8 million in grants over five years, including a teacher residency program in Colorado.

“These programs help prepare, place, develop and retain effective teachers and leaders in our schools and classrooms,” Cardona said in a statement. “Our students need quality educators more than ever to meet their academic and mental health needs. »

The Federal Departments of Education and Labor recently sent a joint letter to district and state education officials across the country, urging them to step up their efforts to address teacher and staff shortages. support. The letter called for setting competitive salaries for educators, including using federal COVID relief funds, though it’s unclear how districts could sustain salary increases once that one-time funding runs out.

Chicago’s new Pre-Service Education Equity Project, or P-STEP – the CPS program receiving an approximately $1.1 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant – aims to ensure that schools work more closely with faculty at local college teacher preparation programs to support student teachers. In partnership with Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University and DePaul, the program will focus on pairing former teachers of color with these student educators and better supporting mentors as well as new teachers. The goal: more diverse novice educators, qualified to teach hard-to-staff subjects, accepting permanent jobs within the district.

The DePaul program, in conjunction with the Academy for Urban School Leadership and CPS, also plans to recruit and place more black and Latino teachers in hard-to-fill positions in district schools serving 70% or more of low-income students.

Beginning next fall, aspiring teachers will participate in a residency model, receive mentorship from a seasoned teacher at one of 25 district schools, and work toward completing a master’s degree in education and earning their teaching license. . The project aims to retain at least 85% of first-grade teachers in schools with above-average vacancies.

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter covering Chicago’s public schools. Contact Mila at mkoumpilova@chalkbeat.org.

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