Image: Website of Arkansas Teacher Corps

Image: Website of Arkansas Teacher Corps

December 1, 2012


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas is taking applications for a new teacher-preparation program designed to help Arkansas school districts in high-need areas fill open teaching positions. The program aims to provide an accelerated path to teaching for talented people with the overall goal of having a lasting impact on economically disadvantaged students and communities in Arkansas.

Applicants are required to have a bachelor’s degree in any major and demonstrate academic success and service orientation, said Benton Brown, director of the program. Those who are awarded Arkansas Teacher Corps Fellowships will receive a $5,000 stipend per year in addition to their teaching salary from the school district that hires them.

“We are seeking high-achieving students with a particular desire to serve communities and students in the state of Arkansas,” said Gary Ritter, one of the faculty directors, adding that the goal of the program is to have 100 fellows teaching in the state by 2015.

There are two application deadlines – an early decision deadline on Jan. 18 and final deadline on March 15 – and the application is available online at the program website.

The development of the Arkansas Teacher Corps program was led by Tom Smith, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, along with Ritter, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in Education Policy, and Conra Gist, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.

“This program will help us meet needs in the state currently not being met by us or other colleges of education in the state,” Smith said. “We want to offer multiple paths for teacher candidates with the ultimate result that students will have the best teachers possible in their classrooms.”

The program will address shortages in high-need districts based on both geographic and specific content area shortages. District officials noted the difficulty of finding enough qualified candidates to teach in content areas such as math and science as well as attracting qualified teachers to low socioeconomic areas of the state.

Jerry Guess, superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, hopes to hire Arkansas Teacher Corps fellows to staff shortage areas in his large central Arkansas district. “We are experiencing a desperate shortage of teachers in certain areas,” Guess said, citing multiple positions open halfway through the fall that he was having difficulty filling.

Kelvin Gragg is superintendent of the Dermott School District, a small district in southeast Arkansas. He has seen how the national program Teach for America worked well in his area but does not have enough teachers to help him fill open positions.

“The problem we have hiring teachers is very similar to what other schools along the Highway 65 corridor in the Delta face,” Gragg said. The poverty level of the region makes it difficult to attract qualified teachers to come to the area and stay, he said.

“I’m excited about the future teachers we’re going to get from this program because I think they will be high-caliber teachers who may come from different areas and want to get into education,”Gragg said. “What I have found is that, when a person wants to go into education and they have experience from an outside area, they are the type of teachers who are really willing to bring in new ideas such as technology as well as a new perspective. They want to try new things.”

Gist, one of the faculty directors, said Arkansas Teacher Corps incorporates “the best practices of various alternative certification programs like effective recruitment and selection processes, and developing partnerships with locally based community organizations.”

The professional development component and support of Arkansas Teacher Corps make the program attractive, Guess said, but he’s also pleased the program emphasizes community service.

“That level of understanding of community responsibility is important,” he said.

The program will recruit applicants to become teachers and work with partner school districts that will hire these new teachers after they complete an intensive six- to eight-week training program. The training will include workshops, student teaching, and small-group planning seminars. Districts will also supply mentors to assist the new teachers. The program will guide applicants through the non-traditional teacher licensure process so that each fellow is certified in a high-need subject area such as math, science, or English, based on the needs of school districts.

The program has the support of the Arkansas Department of Education and will collaborate with school districts and community organizations. Funding for this project has been made available by a collaboration between the College of Education and Health Professions, the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

“We have an opportunity with Arkansas Teacher Corps to implement highly transformative measures,” said Tom Kimbrell, Arkansas commissioner of education. “With so many teachers leaving the classroom in the next decade, there is an increased sense of urgency to recruit the next generation of teachers and to experiment with more innovative programs. Our state’s future depends on our efforts to attract and retain highly effective teachers.”

“There is general excitement about the program and its potential,” Brown noted. “Applications are already coming in and we are eager to continue to review applications of enthusiastic individuals committed to making a difference in the lives of students.”