University of Northern Colorado gets $2.2M grant to fund rural education center | MyWindsorNow.com

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University of Northern Colorado gets $2.2M grant to fund rural education center

Those involved

» Rob Reinsvold, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Biology Secondary

Teacher Preparation Program at UNC, will serve as co-principal investigator for the project.

» Lori Reinsvold, acting director of the Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute at UNC, will devote 10 percent of her time in-kind as co-principal investigator to coordinate the recruitment and participation of rural teachers into UNC’s graduate courses in biology and mathematics.

» Corey Pierce, professor and director of the School of Special Education, will be responsible for recruiting and supporting prospective graduate students to be prepared as National Board Certified Teachers.

» Suzette Youngs, associate professor of teacher education, will be to provide guidance to all components of the Future Teachers Hub and pipeline program development in the project.

» Madeline Milian, professor of teacher education, will be responsible for recruiting and supporting prospective graduate to students to prepared as National Board Certified Teachers.

» Todd Sudeen, associate professor of special education, will be responsible for supporting the partnerships with community colleges and alternative licensure program partnerships with Colorado BOCES to develop a stronger pipeline of rural educators.

» Jingze Ginny Huang, associate dean and director of the School of Teacher Education will be responsible for ensuring effective partnership agreements for educator preparation with community colleges and school district partners in rural Colorado.

The University of Northern Colorado has earned a grant worth $2.2 million to address the rural educator shortage in Colorado during the next five years.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education Rural Education Grant will fund a Center for Rural Education at UNC that will support recruitment and retention of teachers in rural school districts in four major ways:

» Expansion of teacher cadet program into rural communities.

» Developing Rural Teaching Scholars by providing incentives for students from rural communities to go back and serve as educators in rural communities.

» Building a Rural Teacher Leaders program, including pushing to get rural teachers National Board Certification.

» Developing a coordinated professional development network and mentorship programs.

Eugene Sheehan, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, announced the grant receipt in an email to colleagues last week.

"We're really excited, in part because it's an excellent complement to our Center For Urban Education (in Denver)," Sheehan said in a phone interview this week.

A host of UNC faculty will contribute to the Center for Rural Education. It will be led by Harvey Rude, and Rob Reinsvold, Lori Reinsvold, Corey Pierce, Todd Sundeen, Madeline Milian, Ginny Huang and Suzette Youngs will all contribute.

The grant pays for personnel to run the center, travel costs when necessary and student support services, including stipends for conferences, seed money for start-up teacher cadet programs and bonuses for teachers who commit to rural districts for a certain length of time.

"The overall goal is to decrease the shortage of qualified teachers in rural districts," Sheehan said. "It's unrealistic to say we'll solve 100 percent of the needs. But one goal of the grant is to develop a pipeline for teachers and teacher candidates to work in rural school districts."

Although nearly every school district in the United States has suffered from a growing teacher shortage, rural districts seem hardest hit.

Located in central Weld County, UNC is within shouting distance of a number of rural school districts. The most impacted are Pawnee Re-12 in Grover, Prairie Re-11 in New Raymer and Briggsdale Re-10 school districts. Combined, the K-12 districts serve fewer than 500 students.

All have trouble finding — and keeping — teachers. In Grover, most teachers commute, as there is no housing or apartment stock. One employee even stayed in an RV in the past.

"We regularly hear of schools that haven't had a secondary math teacher for three years; so who's teaching that?" Sheehan said. "The consequences always trickle down to the children."

UNC won't be building houses, but officials there hope to build the infrastructure of support to grow a population of rural teachers right at home — in those rural communities.

Many Colorado school districts have teacher cadet programs, where high school students can train to become teachers as a precursor to college coursework. In most cases, human resources directors simply cross their fingers that students will come back and teach in their home districts.

With its new, grant-funded program, UNC hopes to expand teacher cadet programs in rural districts and provide greater incentives for students from those districts to return after receiving their education at UNC.

Incentives include $2,800 in scholarships for 40 pre-service teacher candidates each year if those students commit to teaching in a rural district setting for at least two years after UNC.

"There's an attractiveness to every community," Sheehan said. "Sometimes it involves letting people know that other options exist. The hope is, once they're out there, they want to stay."

Further, rural educators who commit to pursue either National Board Certified Teacher or Concurrent Enrollment Certification will receive a stipend of $6,000 per year.

The $282,000 per year in costs associated with that type of support — as well as teacher cadet funding — represent more than half of the annual grant funding ($441,000), and officials hope the spending will kick-start a new era in rural education.

Tyler Silvy covers education for The Greeley Tribune.

Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.