Mercer University’s Tift College of Education is embarking on a partnership with five Georgia school districts to strengthen teacher recruitment and workforce diversification through a $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
In announcing the project, the Macon, Ga.-based university said the award is the largest federal allocation ever received by its College of Education.
“Education is the cornerstone on which to build hope and a future for the next generations,” said Loleta Sartin, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs and strategic engagement and co-principal investigator for the grant. “Writing this grant was a labor of love with the primary goal of expanding and strengthening our support of Georgia schools by preparing more qualified, innovative educators.”
The projected titled “Georgia Educators Networking to Revolutionize and Transform Education” — or GENERATE — aims to strengthen the teacher pipeline by developing a residency program for career changers to earn master of fine arts in teaching degrees, to help them obtain certification and then specialize in high-need subject areas, including computer science.
The process includes paying candidates a $30,000 stipend while they pursue certification, engage in a one-year residency program and earn their advanced degrees. Candidates also will receive three years of mentoring to strengthen their effectiveness in the classroom.
“Residents will participate in professional development focused on computer science and cybersecurity training and testing certifications, holistic development and sustaining instruction for diverse communities,” the university explained.
“In addition to more than 170 career changers who will participate in the residency program, professional development will also be offered to at least 400 teacher mentors and 120 traditional undergraduate education students from Mercer and Dalton State (College). GENERATE will impact more than 92,000 P-12 students over a five-year period, which will have a profound effect on addressing the state’s teacher shortage.”
Mercer also said it will continue the master of arts cohort program supported by cybersecurity and computer science mentors after the three-year grant program is completed. “GENERATE will continue with an annual summit allowing residents and students to present what they have learned and discuss cutting-edge research with faculty and the larger educational community.”
The five school districts partnering with Mercer are Bibb, Clayton, Pike and Twiggs counties, along with Dublin City Schools. Dalton State College also is a grant partner.
A partnership focused on cultivating teacher pipelines is crucial given the challenges public education currently faces, Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease J. Beasley said.
“Nationally, education has experienced a shortage of individuals aspiring to become classroom teachers, and I believe this project is a much-needed step in the right direction to strengthen and diversify the talent pool. Our school system is proud to support this endeavor,” he said.
Bibb County School District Superintendent Dan Sims said GENERATE will boost the district’s ongoing commitment to recruiting and retaining highly qualified and diverse teachers. “This will provide further avenues to ensure that our teachers represent the diversity of the students we serve.”
The emphasis on computer science will broaden the educational horizon for many students, Dublin City Schools engineering teacher Andrew Harvey said in an interview with Macon television station WMAZ-TV.
“A lot of kids don’t know what they don’t know, and if they don’t have experience with it or an introduction to it, they are missing a whole lot of their potential,” he said.
Tift College of Education Dean Thomas Koballa added in the television report that the program will enable educators to become teacher leaders in computer science. Mercer wants “to help them develop the leadership skills so that they can guide other teachers as they begin to develop their interests and expertise in computer science teaching,” he said.
The nearly $10 million federal grant follows a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant enabling Mercer’s College of Education to develop computer science master teachers in rural Georgia schools.
“Job reports indicate thousands of unfilled computer science positions in Georgia and many more unfilled positions that demand the thinking skills taught in computer science courses,” Koballa said in the university’s April 11 announcement of the National Science Foundation award. “Students attending rural schools in our state, especially members of underrepresented groups, don’t have access to computer science instruction to prepare them for these positions compared to students attending urban and suburban schools.”
The college will use the National Science Foundation funds to provide participating educators with tuition and a stipend to complete a 14-month online education specialist program followed by online mini-courses in computer science, leadership assemblies and science system planning sessions.