Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal figured the solution to attracting and recruiting teachers begins with training future members of the profession in ninth grade.
"Remember playing school when you grew up and how much fun that was?" Neal asked. "We're starting there, at the beginning -- with that kind of enthusiasm. We want that enthusiasm about teaching here, at this school."
Partnering with Ferris State University's School of Education, Neal this week launched the new Academy of Teaching and Learning at Innovation Central High School.
"We decided to grow our own teachers," said Neal in signing the partnership agreement with Dr. Arrick Jackson, FSU School of Education and Human Services dean. The pact is meant to create a talent pipeline from K-12 to higher education and back to GRPS. "We want to boost the careers in teaching because there is an alarming reduction in the numbers of students going into education."
Next Generation of Teachers
Innovation Central Principal Mark Frost is looking forward to recruiting the Academy's first class. Starting Jan. 31, the district will open enrollment for any eighth-grade resident in the city of Grand Rapids. The new theme school will accept 25 incoming ninth-graders in its inaugural class when the 2018-19 school year starts in August.
Students enrolled in the Academy will have the opportunity to earn seven credits from Ferris by taking dual-enrollment education courses. The courses will be taught by a Ferris professor in conjunction with GRPS staff. Upon enrollment at Ferris after graduation, students will gain an additional three credits, for a total of 10 credits towards their bachelor's degree.
With Neal's challenge -- "just-who-do-we-want-to teach-our-children?" -- foremost in his mind, Tony Baker, treasurer of the GRPS Board of Education, helped design a triad approach to recruiting, training and retaining new teachers. He said the Academy is "in many ways a much bigger dream."
"Imagine the barriers that keep students away from college in general," said Baker, a Ferris professor of sociology and director for Community Engagement. "We imagine the barriers that keep them from becoming teachers. We need our students to become teachers of our students in the future."
The Academy will provide an entire curriculum to high school students and offer "automatic acceptance to Ferris for all students that successfully complete the program," he added.
'We decided to grow our own teachers. ... We want that enthusiasm about teaching here, at this school.' -- Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal
The GRPS Teacher Cadets program mirrors Ferris' approach to education by "making sure that our students have an opportunity to engage the workforce prior to graduation," Jackson said. "We want them to understand what it is like to work in a classroom with a teacher mentor, and also to understand what it is like to work in the field of teaching."
Frost welcomes the Academy to the historic Central High building, which currently houses four academies: Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship; Design and Construction; Modern Engineering; and Health Science and Technology.
"Career sampling at the college level is incredibly expensive, so we do career sampling here," said Frost. He has helped transform the graduation rate at Innovation High to 91 percent last year: a double-digit gain in four years.
"Two summers ago, I read that when you focus your curriculum and electives on careers, then African-American and Hispanic students graduate at a 20 to 25 percent higher rate, and we're proof of that," Frost added. "So they see the relevance of the classes. So they're not just taking classes to take classes -- they see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"We want students to find their passion. This is really a special place."
Growing their Own
What: Academy of Teaching and Learning
Where: Innovation Central High School
Who: Grand Rapids Public Schools and Ferris State University
How: Innovation Central students will be able to earn up to seven credits by taking dual-enrollment classes in Ferris' teacher education program, plus three more upon enrollment at Ferris
When: Beginning in 2018-19 school year with up to 25 ninth-graders; enrollment begins Jan. 31 for current eighth-graders
Source: Grand Rapids Public Schools
By Jaye Beeler courtesy of School News Network