Grant helps train new educators

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Ingrid Shankle always wanted to be a teacher but never seemed to get a shot. For most of her life, she bounced between Alaska, Texas and Connecticut, following her husband in the Army while raising three children.

Katie Jones, of Georgia Teaching Fellows, gives a presentation to prospective Richmond County teachers. The program aims to hire 35 to 55 new teachers a year in the county for four years.   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Katie Jones, of Georgia Teaching Fellows, gives a presentation to prospective Richmond County teachers. The program aims to hire 35 to 55 new teachers a year in the county for four years.

When her husband retired in Augusta three years ago, it finally gave her the stability to launch the teaching career she never had.

Though it feels long overdue to Shankle, her timing couldn't be better.

She is entering the education field when Richmond County schools are in desperate need of math, science and special-education teachers.

A new program funded by the state's Race to the Top grant has launched in Augusta to certify and train new teachers and close the achievement gap between underprivileged students and their more affluent peers.

"We're not looking for someone who wants the paycheck and not someone who wants the summers off," said Katie Jones, the site director for Georgia Teaching Fellows, the subprogram of The New Teacher Project. "Those are not good reasons to become a teacher. We're looking for people who are really excited about making a difference."

Since its founding in 1997, the project has operated in 31 states and trained 43,000 teachers.

In Richmond County, Jones said, the program will aim to hire 35 to 55 new teachers every year for four years -- as long as the school system's $16.6 million share of the state's $400 million Race to the Top grant lasts.

Jones has already received about 500 applications for this year, and she said she hopes to get a pool of 2,000 applicants before the deadline March 21.

A large field would give recruiters the best chance of hiring people who have the potential to change lives, Jones said.

"Teaching is a difficult job, but it's really rewarding," she said "We're looking for people to come into the classrooms and see 35 faces and know all of those can succeed."

After candidates are selected, they will begin a six-week summer training institute with seminars and practice teaching. The teachers will be recommended for certification after one year of effective teaching.

Though the program is extremely selective, Jones said, it is usually able to place 95 percent of the candidates in jobs before the end of their summer training.

Norman Hill, the Richmond County school system's chief human resources officer, said there are normally "tremendous challenges" in recruiting teachers for the critical-need areas of math, science and special needs.

While teachers recruited through the program will not replace any current educators, they will help fill a gap that is being seen across the country.

"Within critical-need areas, we've been faced with the same challenges that school districts have seen across the country," Hill said. "There's been a national shortage, so we've had a challenge in recruiting these individuals."

Traditionally, about 25 percent of the applicants are recent college graduates, and the rest are a mix of older career changers.

Kelvin Owens, 50, looked to the program after retiring from a 28-year military career. He holds two master's degrees, but to become a teacher along the traditional route he felt pressured to pursue a third degree in education, he said.

With this program, he would be able to follow a summer certification program while fulfilling his dream of working with children.

"I've seen some of the challenges in the schools," Owens said. "I know I can help. I like working with youth, and that's what I want to do, is work hands-on and make a difference."

Learn more

Find out more about The New Teacher Project, Georgia Teaching Fellows and Race to the Top online.

- The New Teacher Project: www.tntp.org

- Georgia Teaching Fellows: georgiateachingfellows.ttrack.org

- Race to the Top: www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop

- Georgia's Race to the Top plan: www.doe.k12.ga.us/RT3.aspx


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