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ISU Teacher Pipeline Brings Gusher of Talent to CPS

Improving urban education means attracting and keeping the best and brightest teachers in urban schools. That’s one of the few truisms about education on which people from virtually any point on the political spectrum can agree.

The College of Education at Illinois State University has one of the largest teacher education programs in the country, but for decades ISU struggled to place teachers in Chicago Public Schools. From 1967 to 2004, ISU records show, 487 alumni were hired by CPS – or about 13 per year on average. Yet since 2004, another 367 have gone to work for CPS – a considerably faster flow of 46 per year.

Katie Meersman, who graduated ISU's College of Education in 2012, works with a student at Westcott Elementary in Auburn Gresham during her time as a STEP-UP Fellow and PDS Intern.

Stefanie Lee-Berardi

Last spring, CPS hosted 1,200 student teachers from 64 different universities across the nation, and the district hired only 8 percent (97 teachers), yet almost 40 percent of those hired graduated from ISU.

The recent hiring upsurge coincides with a new partnership that ISU launched eight years ago with LISC Chicago and one of its partner agencies, Enlace Chicago (then called Little Village Community Development Corp.), which not only provides student teaching experience but attempts to immerse students in their respective communities. The seed of the idea germinated from discussions between LISC and State Farm about how universities could better partner with citizen-based organizations.

Named the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline™, it has consistently worked with 16 schools in Little Village, spreading to six schools in Auburn Gresham in 2011-12 and five schools in Albany Park this school year. LISC lead agencies have been tapped in all three places – Enlace in Little Village, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., and North River Commission in Albany Park – to help facilitate the university-school and university-CBO relationships.

The program works to build bonds and encourage these student teachers – many of them white and from the suburbs or rural areas – to consider urban, minority-majority school districts like Chicago’s. This approach has drawn notice in Washington, D.C., reaching even as high as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who mentioned the program’s work in community immersion of students as a model—and whose department has invited Robert Lee, founding director of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline and others to give presentations on how they’ve structured the program, particularly with regard to cultural competency.

A Little Village family sits down to dinner with a STEP-UP Fellow, part of the program's optional residential component that helps to further immerse ISU students in their respective communities.

Rachel Bujalski

“Providing [students] with a cultural context for the community in which they will work demonstrates your commitment to improving education for every child in your neighborhood,” wrote Peggi Zelinko, director of the Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Program Office, in a July 2011 letter to ISU.

Lee and an ISU colleague presented to the department and other universities participating in the federal Teacher Quality Partnership in June 2012, highlighting research showing the beneficial effects of cultural competence on teaching and learning.

“We are really excited to highlight the literature and your publications in this area and want to use this meeting as a time to discuss and review the reform that have been implemented, researched and supported through literature, research, and promising practice,” wrote Patricia Barrett, DOE management and program analyst for teacher quality, before the meeting.

Nuts, Bolts and Numbers
Teacher education students are not required to participate in the pipeline. ISU graduates approximately 1,500 education students per year, but only 133 new students enrolled last year, joining the existing pipeline of 340 still on-campus, says Lee.

Mitchell Staroscik, a 2010 ISU graduate, assists a student at CICS Longwood during a science class.

Stefanie Lee-Berardi

ISU Alum 'Glad to Be Back' at Auburn Gresham Academy

Among the 367 new Illinois State University recruits to Chicago Public Schools in the past eight years has been Mitchell Staroscik, who, while an undergraduate at ISU, says he brought environmental sciences to life for high school students through real-world experiences in their community.

Now an early childhood development teacher at Simeon Career Academy in Auburn Gresham, Staroscik has returned to the school where he did his student teaching. And he’s glad to be there, having connected with students, faculty and staff during his student teaching days in fall 2010.

“I was having different conversations with students and learning about them, more than just getting the science across to them,” he recalls. “I don’t think that I know, necessarily, where they’re coming from – their lives have been very different from mine, for better or worse.”

Indeed, the time Staroscik spent learning about Auburn Gresham has given him a common knowledge that creates a mutual comfort level, he says. “There is something to be said for eating at the same restaurants. You’re more willing to hang out in the neighborhood.”

When talking with friends or family members who might be nervous about hanging out in Auburn Gresham, Staroscik adds, “I can explain to people how Auburn Gresham is actually nice – how there’s good places and good people.”

Staroscik began with the summer-long STEP-UP program at Spry Elementary in Little Village and lived with the pastor’s family in La Villita Community Church. He taught summer school in the morning and worked for Enlace Chicago in the afternoons, handling data collection that contributed to grant writing to obtain more funding for the agency’s violence prevention work.

“We only take students who are supremely motivated to end up teaching in urban education and in Chicago,” he says of ISU’s program, having returned to serve as a STEP-UP Resident Advisor “You go through the interview process and talk about your commitment.”

Staroscik says his summer experience as a fellow prepared him greatly for his semester at Simeon. “I already felt like I had done student teaching,” he says.

Staroscik’s position at Simeon focuses on teaching early childhood development as part of the school’s Teaching Academy.

“It’s partly human development biology class, partly teacher preparation work,” he says. “Right before I left student teaching, I told the principal, ‘I want to be here.’ I have a wonderful respect for the administration. We have great students. They gave me a call this summer and said, ‘Hey, we have an opening.’ I’m so happy to be back.”

In Chicago, a total of 132 ISU students have participated in the program’s culminating, senior yearlong Professional Development School internship, averaging 30 per year in recent years Lee says. ISU also has a total of a dozen PDS sites across the state of Illinois, including Wheeling, Pekin, Elgin, Springfield, Normal, Palatine, St. Charles, Bloomington, and a consortium of 13 rural high schools.

Lee reports a growth in interest in the program, noting for example that 1,200 teacher education students are expected to participate in 51 “clinical trips” of one to three days apiece to participate in service learning opportunities at partner schools. That’s a six-fold increase since 2006, when 200 students took part in eight such trips, he says.

Another indicator of growth has been the fact that for the past three years, ISU students have had the opportunity to get an early taste of the pipeline the summer after either their sophomore or junior year, by participating in a four-week intensive residency program called Summer Teacher Education Partnership for Urban Preparation. These STEP-UP fellows, who have totaled 61 over the three summers, simultaneously teach, intern at community-based organizations and take seminars on a variety of topics, while living in their respective communities with host families.

Nine Years, Three Communities
Katya Nuques, associate director of Enlace Chicago, recalls that her organization worked closely with LISC and ISU in their quest to create the pipeline. “The challenge they had identified was, this institution [ISU] graduated one of the highest numbers of teaching students in the nation, but the numbers of teachers coming to Chicago was almost nothing,” she says.

Little Village seemed like a worthwhile place to start given the 26 schools serving 18,000 students in that community. And Enlace had deep experience both working in the community and partnering with its schools, says Nuques, who served as director of education from 2005-10 and returned to that role on an interim basis in 2012.

Kathy Thin (from left), Laura Mueller and Leslie Gonzalez, all 2011 ISU graduates, review student work during a STEP-UP workshop.

Rachel Bujalski

“Most of the students are white students from suburban or rural areas of Illinois. They have very limited knowledge of what urban education entails,” she says. “The students get a very real sense of what teaching is like, and what it’s like to teach in an urban setting.”

Since 2010, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. has helped develop partnerships with Rudyard Kipling, Westcott, Clara Barton and Green elementary schools, as well as Perspectives Calumet and Simeon Career Academy. The ISU partnership has helped to build on the work GADC was already doing, says Tenisha Jones, director of education for the agency.

“It allows us to tap into their expertise,” she says. “They work to help us promote what we’re trying to do.” Responds Dakota Pawlicki, program coordinator, “We couldn’t do this work without GADC’s partnership.”

Each community competed to have ISU establish a program at their local schools. Faculty and staff from ISU toured three communities in early 2010 and selected Auburn Gresham for the program. Working with GADC staff, they then met with aldermen, ministers and residents who participated in a charrette and took a tour of the community with ISU staff, said Jones. The university asks LISC partner agencies to showcase their plans and vision, and how they see ISU fitting into their quality-of-life efforts through the New Communities Program.

STEP-UP Fellows work with youth and residents at the 26th Street Plaza in Little Village during a STEP-UP community action project.

Verenice D'Santiago























In Albany Park, the pipeline started flowing last October through the PDS to Patrick Henry and North River elementary schools and expanded to Schurz, Mather and Roosevelt high schools in January. Even prior to then, ISU students from the other two neighborhoods already have visited classrooms and community institutions, says Melissa McDaniel, program director at the North River Commission.

She’s been impressed with ISU’s genuine willingness to work with the community and schools to tailor the program; for example, when someone suggested that teaching fellows learn more about the administrative side of schools, the university responded. “I love that it’s a fluid opportunity, as opposed to a set program,” she says. “It’s about responding to what schools say they need.” McDaniel adds, “I haven’t seen a program like ISU’s that is intentionally trying to invest resources in a school.”

Residency Component
The pipeline has a residency component that some students choose to take advantage of once they arrive in Chicago for student teaching, which sets it apart from other programs. Pawlicki says the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline works with local partners to find housing for the ISU students.

Last year, seven students lived in Auburn Gresham and 29 lived in Little Village housing, while this school year there are four in Auburn Gresham and 16 in Little Village; the number will vary each year, he says. ISU professors also live in the same housing during the summer months as they work to redesign their courses. A grant from State Farm subsidizes their stay to make it more affordable.

STEP-UP Fellows work at a corner "pocket park" in Little Village.

Rachel Bujalski

Other students live nearby and choose to commute, says Sarah Cohen, site coordinator in Auburn Gresham. “Regardless of [where they live], they’re all participating in community programming,” she says. “They get to know an inside-out perspective on where students are coming from, on a day-to-day basis. They help them develop tools to prosper. They’re not just going into the classroom to teach.”

Pawlicki says this “fundamentally changes the way a teacher approaches their classroom. … It really does equip candidates with the tools and the knowledge about the way communities work, the lay of the land.”

Local partners play a major role in setting up this dynamic, Nuques says. “Who’s going to identify those host families, for example?” she says. “Your staff member’s mom has a house, or someone we know from the church, or a lady who works in our garden. You need to have a deep knowledge of the community to make these programs successful.”

It’s critical for candidates to understand where students come from, Lee says. “They understand the neighborhood dynamics. Working with the community-based organizations, they’re able to partner in different ways,” he says. “For most candidates, it’s not their first introduction to the neighborhood,” as many already have participated in our other programming.

It changes the relationship for CPS students to run into their teachers at the local grocery store, for example, Lee says. “It provides another layer of ownership and respect,” he says. The hope is that it will help combat the “outrageous” turnover rates of 60 percent to 70 percent per year in some schools, he says, adding: “Kids experience that.” Jones agrees it’s “devastating” for students to build trust in a teacher and then have that person leave.

Bridget Heneghan, a 2012 ISU graduate, reads aloud while teaching at Westcott Elementary.

Stefanie Lee-Berardi

ISU teaching students in Little Village get grounded before they move into the community with community tours and school visits, where they meet the principals, other teachers and students, Nuques says. Whether they participate in PDS or STEP-UP, the students work in community-based organizations doing anything from planting community gardens to tutoring at Boys and Girls Clubs, Nuques says.

“We think it’s very important that they live here and work here—hopefully both. It’s a little bit more of a realistic picture,” she says. “It’s a great experience to learn about each other and find commonalities and similar interests.”

Living in the neighborhood makes it less likely that students will burn out, Cohen says, because they’ll better understand students’ lives—that in Auburn Gresham, for example, an unusually high number of students live with their grandparents. And student teachers learn to view their neighborhoods from the same asset-based lens as do LISC and its partner agencies—and to reject the negativity about so-called “inner city” neighborhoods that’s so often seen in the media, Lee says.

That’s meant that some have challenged local beat officers who demand to know what they’re doing in the neighborhood, Lee says. At first they’re afraid to do so, but then “their mindset shifted, and they started engaging with the police: ‘What do you mean?’ ” he says. “They’re starting to become social justice advocates.”

Coursework Redesign
Since 2006, 56 courses across 22 disciplines have been redesigned at ISU through the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline. Each course includes a clinical experience that ranges from one-day to multi-day visits to Chicago classrooms and communities. ISU facultyredesigning its on-campus coursework with help from the partner CBOs, Lee says, has changed the definition of students’ clinical hours to less passive, “fly on the wall” activities and more in the way of working directly with students.

Rachel Grgin, ISU class of 2012, reads with a student from Westcott Elementary.

Stefanie Lee-Berardi

In addition to time in classrooms and schools, students are completing community-asset mapping projects, exchanging knowledge and experiences with local youth, and engaging in civic and service learning projects with community-based organizations.

Each clinical trip includes balanced time in the school and in the community, providing an early immersion into Chicago communities and meaningful opportunities for development of cultural competencies.It’s also given students the option to join the Pipeline as early as freshman year since some general education courses have also been retooled.

ISU students can also participate in the CONNECT mentorship program established in 2010, through which they are paired with older elementary school students and help them work through challenges those students identify for themselves. They interact weekly on Skype, elementary school students visit ISU’s campus to learn more about college, and the college students have a chance to visit Chicago, where they engage in youth-led and -identified community service projects like tree planting or cleaning-up a rundown athletic field, complete with new equipment.

At Simeon, high school students receive a dose of their own teacher education through the pipeline’s TEACH program, Lee says. “That’s a large push, getting high school students interested in the profession,” he says. “It’s about getting them thinking of ways to give back to their own community right now and becoming a mentor or a tutor at an elementary school that they attended.”

The partnerships with schools lead to ongoing relationships, Cohen says. “We’re giving back and providing professional development to them—helping with after-school programs,” she says. “It’s not just us talking to the school and then leaving. Students graduate, and then significant numbers get jobs in the schools.”

Posted in Education, Albany Park, Auburn Gresham, Little Village

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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