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Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon ISDs join forces to recruit and retain teachers

Applications open now for West Michigan Teacher Collaborative

Kent ISD — A $19 million grant to fund the newly launched West Michigan Teacher Collaborative aims to build the educator pipeline across three West Michigan counties, Kent ISD officials announced today. 

The collaborative, a partnership between Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon ISDs and Grand Valley State University, will potentially add 210 new teachers to the local workforce and build the credentials of 150 current educators. The goal is to equip prospective teachers with tools to go into and remain in the profession, and help current teachers earn advanced degrees and qualifications.

Funded through Michigan’s Future Proud Michigan Educator Grow Your Own Programs for School Staff Grant, the collaborative will support people in three categories: Pre-Residency, Residency, and Endorsements and Advanced Degrees. Applications were opened today, Sept. 27, when Kent ISD issued a press release announcing the program. 

Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler
Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler

Through the program, aspiring teachers will have options to complete a bachelor’s degree, earn a teaching certification and gain full-time employment within one of the districts. Current educators can earn endorsements and advanced degrees. All tuition, fees and supplies are covered for participants.

“Our goal is to bring new and enthusiastic educators into the classroom from all walks of life to become mentors and coaches throughout their career,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler. 

“A great teacher makes a huge difference in the academic growth of students. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recruit, train, place and support new educators in classrooms across West Michigan, and we’re doing everything we can to get it right. Our students and our communities deserve our best.”

Addressing the Teacher Shortage

Concerns about a pending teacher shortage were raised well before the pandemic, as a generation of educators moved closer to retirement and another generation opted for other careers. Education careers became less popular due to concerns over pay, academic pressures, safety concerns and political climate, according to a National Education Association report. A 2022 NEA survey found 55 percent of educators were thinking of leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. 

‘This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recruit, train, place and support new educators in classrooms across West Michigan, and we’re doing everything we can to get it right.’

— Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler

According to the Michigan Department of Education, over a 10-year period, total college enrollment of those preparing for an education career dropped significantly, hitting a low of 9,512 in 2016-2017. Enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year increased to 14,829, but is still more than 8,000 below 2011-2012, when 23,203 were enrolled.

Laura Castle, Kent ISD director of teacher development
Laura Castle, Kent ISD director of teacher development

“I think teaching is a profession that has had a lot of challenges, but I also believe there are so many people who would love to work and serve their communities in this way,” said Laura Castle, Kent ISD director of teacher development. “We just have to make it a financially sustainable pathway and then we have to equip them with the skills they need to be successful.”

For the past several years, districts have been focused on recruiting and retaining teachers. The state has created several initiatives to aid that effort, with the Grow Your Own grant being one of them. Besides Kent ISD, Kentwood, Kelloggsville and Rockford have also received Grow Your Own grants specifically for their respective districts to create their own programs. 

Kent ISD already had been working to build the teacher pipeline through its Teacher Academy, which gives high school juniors and seniors the chance to work alongside mentors in exploring the teaching profession. Because of that work, when MDE announced it was seeking proposals for the grant, Castle and other Kent ISD staff began to look around the country at who was operating successful grow-your-own programs to model their own after. 

“The idea is that we really need to do more to remove the bureaucratic and the financial barriers that prevent people from entering the profession and at the same time, we need to hold a really high standard in terms of the preparation that people receive as they enter the profession,” Castle said.

Breakdown of the Program

The grant will fund tuition and coursework for people in all three programs: Those selected for the Pre-Residency and the Endorsements and Advanced Degrees programs will start in January, and the Residency program will start in spring 2024. 

  • Pre-Residency is for prospective teachers who have some college credits but have not completed a post-secondary degree. Once completed, participants enter the Residency program. Deadline for applications is Nov. 1. 
  • Residency is for those who have a bachelor’s degree in any field and would like to become a teacher. Participants will receive help in earning teacher certification and securing a full-time teaching position in West Michigan. The one-year program offers a stipend of up to $20,000 on top of the salary a participant earns as a paraprofessional, aide or other student-facing role in their residency. Application deadline is Nov. 15. 
  • Endorsements and Advanced Degrees provides a pathway for certified teachers looking to earn graduate degrees or advanced endorsements for reading, English as a second language, special education, early childhood education and counseling. Application deadline is Nov. 1.

Those in the Pre-Residency and Residency programs would be expected to work at least two years in a district that is in the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative.

“We are trying to prioritize the areas that match critical shortages in districts,” Castle said of the advanced degree and endorsement programs that are being offered. “It’s a starting point and we may add more over time depending on districts’ needs.”

‘This partnership really shows what we PK-12 and university educator preparation programs can do together to ensure that every classroom has a well-prepared teacher.’

— Amy Schelling, associate dean, GVSU College of Education and Innovation

Looking for People ‘That Principals Want’

There is a rigorous selection process. Applicants already working in a school are required to submit a letter of recommendation from the school’s principal or superintendent. The candidate will then have to go through the WMTC application process to demonstrate they can develop new skills in teaching, persist through challenges and have a passion for serving their community as a teacher. 

“We’re hoping to make sure that we have a selection process and a training process so that when the candidate gets to the end, these are people that principals want,” Castle said. 

Amy Schelling, assistant dean of GVSU’s College of Education and Innovation

Once accepted into the program, candidates will be enrolled at GVSU, which will provide the coursework for the three programs. 

WMTC staff and GVSU’s education faculty worked together to co-create the Residency Program curriculum, using existing courses from GVSU’s Graduate Teacher Certification program, said Amy Schelling, associate dean for GVSU’s College of Education and Innovation.

The program’s focuses include recruiting a diverse workforce, maintaining standards for high-quality preparation, and providing support and resources to ensure candidate success, Schelling said.

“This partnership really shows what we PK-12 and university educator preparation programs can do together to ensure that every classroom has a well-prepared teacher,” she said.

To learn more about the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative or to apply for one of the offered programs, visit teachwestmichigan.org

Read more from Kent ISD: 
Leaders in achievement pass the torch
Preschool enrollment gets a boost at Great Start Readiness

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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