Letter: State’s focus should be on high-quality teachers

On August 15, The Advocate reported that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is holding job fairs to fill vacant positions in several schools and subject areas. The hiring shortage that EBR is experiencing is a challenge across our state, and EBR leaders should be commended for their efforts to recruit locally and nationally to staff their schools.

Beyond the immediate concern about teacher shortages is the larger problem of what this means for students. Without effective teachers, students will not be fully prepared for the rigors of college and career, which could impact their job prospects and Louisiana’s economy for the long term.

The solution to this challenge lies in strong partnerships between schools, districts and preparation programs, partnerships in which programs and districts together decide how many and what type of teachers are needed, how and where teachers should gain hands-on student teacher experience, and what teachers need to know in order to be successful in the classroom.

The Louisiana Department of Education is supporting district-preparation program partnerships as part of a long-term body of work to strengthen teacher education in Louisiana.

Through Believe and Prepare, a pilot program that supports innovation in teacher preparation through district-program partnerships, LDE invested over $800,000 in pilot programs that ensure districts and programs are creating a strong and balanced teacher workforce. Their work addresses teacher shortages and includes yearlong residencies that give aspiring teachers ample time to practice, from the opening day to the closing bell and all that is required between.

The seven pilots named in April 2014 include West Feliciana Parish and Louisiana State University’s Cain Center. Through their partnership with the Cain Center, West Feliciana’s district and school leaders are recruiting science, technology and math graduates and undergraduates into a residency program based in West Feliciana schools to increase the number of STEM teachers and mentors and expand middle and high school STEM course offerings to students.

These pilots began training teachers this summer and will inform eventual shifts in teacher licensure and preparation policies meant to lead Louisiana’s future teachers to success.

Schools, districts, and preparation programs that work together to recruit, select and train high-quality teacher candidates to meet districts’ needs will ensure that all of Louisiana’s students can achieve success in the classroom and in their future careers. As a graduate of Louisiana schools, the mother of two Louisiana students, and a certified educator, this is work that I believe in.

Julie Stephenson

Louisiana Department of Education

Ruston