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Class Is In Session For Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program

Rhema Thompson

For most of Duval County, school’s out for summer, but for 11 young professionals sitting in a University of North Florida program the lessons are only getting started.“You all have one thing that we think is really important and that’s your passion for wanting to become a teacher,” said Christine White, director of the Jacksonville Teacher Residency program.

Friday kicked off of the new teaching initiative in Jacksonville. The medical-residency style program takes high-achieving, STEM-based majors and places them in 36 of the district’s highest-need schools over the next four years.

The program was announced earlier this year as part of the $40 million Quality Education for Allinitiative aimed at improving student achievement by placing an emphasis on the district’s teaching talent pool.

 “We’re trying to build a bench or a bring people like you, who are bright and that don’t have to be teachers, that have that STEM-background knowledge to really provide to our most fragile and vulnerable students what they’re not receiving on a day-to-day basis,” Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the group Friday.

Out of the 108 individuals who expressed interest in the program last Spring, 11 were selected at the end of April.

Members of the selected group hail from as near as downtown Jacksonville and as far as Utah. Of the eleven, four are teachers of color and three are from out of state with backgrounds ranging from opticians to City Year Corps, and ages ranging from 22 to 41.

Tiffany Allen , 23, is among the class of new residents, but just a few short years ago, teaching was the last thing on her mind.

“Originally, I thought that I would design homes and different HVAC systems,” she said.

She studied architectural engineering North Carolina A & T State University.  But after a year of working in mechanical engineering, Allen said she felt unfulfilled.   

“I was helping to achieve a project, but that was it, I didn’t feel like I was physically helping anyone or making a difference,” she said.

She did, however, find that feeling of fulfillment as a college student while instructing kids in a summer engineering program.

 “I really enjoyed teaching them about math and science and I just like the kids. It was fun,” she said.

Thursday, she arrived in Jacksonville for only the second time in her life to begin the four-year program.
Over the next 10 months,  Allen and others will train in a classroom under the close watch and guidance of a veteran high-performing teacher. During the year, they’ll also be working towards a Master of Education degree from UNF.

The residents receive a living stipend, state certification and tuition reimbursement in exchange for a three-year commitment to teaching secondary math and science in the district.

In some respects, the program mirrors aspects of another Quality Education for All-funded initiative--Teach for America--which provides fast-track teacher training to high-achieving undergraduates in exchange for a two year commitment; but the preparation and time commitment involved sets it apart from any other program in the district, Vitti said.  

“I think with the deeper training  and the longer commitment, we should see better rates of retention,” he said.

By next year, Vitti said the residency program plans to enlist up to 30 new teachers. Currently, $1.6 million in private donations is going toward funding it this year. There are plans to funnel a total of $5.5 million into the program over the next three years, but that proposal has yet to be approved by donors.

Coursework begins for the first group of residents this Monday.

Over the next few months, WJCT’s Rhema Thompson will be providing an up-close look into the journey of two new teachers as they navigate their way through a brave, new world of education in Duval County this year in the Jacksonville Teacher Residency program.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.