WACO, TX — Greater Waco will be utilizing a $2.2 million grant over three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the teacher workforce and the pipeline of qualified teachers in McLennan County.
"The Gates Foundation was wanting to do work in Central Texas and was looking for a community partner," Chief Executive Officer of Prosper Waco, Suzii Paynter March, said. "So we were on a conference call that was convened, and we talked about educational opportunities. That's how are conversation with Gates started"
According to a statement from a Gates Foundation spokesperson, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was able to engage with leaders of Waco school districts, teacher preparation programs, and community organizations over the last couple of months.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation learned about Waco’s interest in improving the quality of teacher preparation through one of our existing grantee partners, Texas Tech University. Over the last couple of months, we have had the opportunity to engage with amazing leaders at Waco school districts, teacher preparation programs, and community organizations. These leaders are blazing a new trail that will result in well-prepared teachers for Waco schools, and Waco will serve as an example for other regions across Texas.
According to Paynter March, the grant money will help retain talented teachers and make the area more attractive for teacher recruitment in several ways.
"It is about talent recruitment and talent retention," she said. "We expect there to be a profound teacher shortage in the near future. So we're preparing and grateful for the timing of this Gates Foundation grant because it's going to allow our region to prepare some very attractive teacher training opportunities that will help us recruit and retain some of our best talent."
Paynter March says the grant is already in use, creating or improving residencies in the area through collaborative efforts with local school districts.
"There are opportunity culture leaders at both La Vega District and Waco Independent School District working right now on teacher residency programs," she said.
The grant will also enhance the teacher alternative certification program at McLennan Community College.
"There's already a committee at work planning and working on that alternative certification program," said Paynter March.
The first initiative, University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (US-Prep), provides support and services to a coalition of university-based teacher preparation programs. It's members include Texas Tech University and Tarleton State University, where US-Prep is helping to build sustainable, year-long residencies, which will ultimately produce well-prepared teachers in the Waco region.
"They're going to know specifically what our needs are, and they are also going to be working closely with our professional development department and the human resources department," said Dr. Josie Hernandez-Gutierrez, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources at Waco ISD. "I think through stronger communication and collaboration, we should be able to accomplish the things we need to accomplish to ultimately meet the need of our students."
"The staffing model with Opportunity Culture will help build out our pipeline, because the identification
of the master classroom leaders will be based on evidence and data," said Dr. Hernandez-Gutierrez. "So you're going to have your highest performing teacher in the system, training and supporting our new pipeline of teachers."
Dr. Hernandez-Gutierrez says the opportunity culture model is something the district hasn't used before.
"We have master teachers in our system, and we already work with a couple universities on developing new teachers, but this is really a different model because it targets the development of all our teachers," she said.
"It's not only building our pipeline, but it's also a career pathway that gives excellent teachers an opportunity
to leadership roles on the campus."
Public Impact, an education policy and consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, NC, will assist La Vega and Waco school districts in implementing the Opportunity Culture Program. The grant will also fund a coordinator position for each district.
"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already provided the funding for our opportunity culture director," Dr. Hernandez-Gutierrez said. "So that money is going through Prosper Waco, and we just offered a offered the job to a director, and that person is going to start next week."
The grant will also boost alternative teacher certification programs like the one in existence at McLennan Community College. The grant will bring CTAPP, an organization from established in the Houston-area, that provides technical assistance to alternative teacher certification programs to Waco.
"Basically, if you're flying a plane, and the plane is having some issues landing, they're the experts you jump on that plane that can fix it as you're flying it," Senior Content Specialist for Education at ProsperWaco, Hermann Pereira said. "So what they're doing is they're going to improve the processes of existing programs, so that they have high quality programs that are going to be producing high-quality teachers."
Pereira said the preparation of the certification program at McLennan Community College is high caliber. He hopes they can maximize the program to get the most teachers they can out of it.
"So right now you could go online and get certified within a couple of weeks, but you're not going to survive in the classroom," he explained. "That's not the best scenario for teachers or for our students. We want great teaching and great preparation to happen, and they're doing at McLennan Community College right now."
Finally, the grant will also be used to establish a Greater Waco Teacher Community of Practice, a coalition of community members to study the teacher pipeline in McLennan County and identify where improvements can be made.
"We've got to come up with creative solutions as a community. We know it's not one institution's problem or issue to deal with," Pereira said.
For more information on Prosper Waco and the work and opportunities they do in Waco area community, visit here.