FHSU Teacher Education wins $104,000 Regents grant: Funding aimed at increasing teacher pool for underserved districts, hard-to-fill subject areas

05/17/16 tmw/kb
HAYS, Kan. -- A grant designed to increase the number of highly qualified elementary teachers in underserved Kansas regions was awarded to Fort Hays State University's Department of Teacher Education.

The In PLACE Education Project -- Innovative Pathways to Licensure and Competency in Elementary Education -- will receive $104,033 from the Kansas Board of Regents through its competitive Kansas Teacher Education Grant Program.

The one-year grant, with opportunities to apply in subsequent years, includes $55,000 dedicated to scholarships for In PLACE elementary teacher candidates (students) who commit to teaching in underserved districts. The grant ties directly to efforts by FHSU's Department of Teacher Education to meet the critical need for quality Kansas educators.

"This project directly addresses the elementary teacher shortage in Kansas by increasing accessibility and removing barriers so that high-quality, place-bound teacher candidates can earn certification," said Dr. Teresa M. Woods, In PLACE project director and an assistant professor of teacher education at FHSU.

Four other teacher education professors are also on the team. Dr. Lorie Cook-Benjamin, associate professor and co-director; Dr. Sherri Brantley, assistant professor and co-director; Dr. Beth Walizer, professor; and Dr. Janet Stramel, assistant professor.

"I commend Dr. Woods and the rest of the In PLACE team as their efforts affirm our department's continued commitment to providing quality, pre-service teacher education programs while also being mindful of the needs of our students and Kansas communities," said Dr. Chris Jochum, newly appointed chair of the department.

Underserved geographic areas of Kansas are defined by the Kansas State Department of Education as districts that have difficulty filling teaching positions. These, said Woods, are certain urban districts (in Kansas City, Kan., Topeka and Wichita), and all districts in the State Board of Education District No. 5, which includes most of western Kansas.

"We have students in all these urban and rural areas, and we wanted to leverage our strengths in online education to reach more of them," Woods said.

The program is designed for students who live, work and are invested in their local communities. The In PLACE team hopes to recruit 15 new elementary teacher candidates, all committed to teaching in underserved areas, for the first year, 2016-2017, and an additional 20 the following year.

"They are likely somewhat place-bound, usually non-traditional students, often needing to work full time to maintain their income," said Woods.

She said the students include parents with school-age children, homeowners working in the community, spouses of farmers or ranchers, or para-professionals already employed by a local school district. One pathway, Woods said, is virtual. Students complete courses online and serve their internships in their local districts.

Another pathway is the Residency Program, which she described as a "grow-your-own program for districts with talented but unlicensed staff, usually para-professionals, who want to earn elementary teaching licenses."

These school employees complete their coursework online in an "immersion" model fashioned after medical clinical residencies, leveraging their field experiences in schools.

"By virtue of FHSU's strengths in delivering online coursework, we can especially recruit place-bound teacher candidates," she said. "This is an exciting and, up to this point, small pilot project, our Residency Program, which will be scaled up and expanded."

"So through the grant," she said, "we are investing in our pathways for place-bound students, in our students themselves through scholarships and in our field partners -- teachers and districts."

"We are excited for this chance to expand our educational offerings to our students," said Dr. Paul Adams, dean of the College of Education. "The In PLACE Education Project is a wonderful opportunity to meet the needs of place-bound students using an innovative model of the residency program."

For more information, see the Teacher Education website, www.fhsu.edu/te, or contact Woods at tmwoods2@fhsu.edu, 785-628-5845.

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