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Teacher plan moves forward despite funding issues
Colleges are looking for ways to pay for "educator preparation institutes."
By RON MATUS
Published June 1, 2005
An ambitious plan to produce thousands of new teachers through Florida's community colleges - and ease a looming teacher shortage - is shifting into high gear even as one Tampa Bay-area college questions whether it has enough money to get rolling.
Education Commissioner John Winn recently gave 24 of the state's 28 community colleges tentative approval to create "educator preparation institutes," boot-camp-like programs aimed at turning college graduates into teachers within a year.
St. Petersburg College, which already offers a four-year program, received final approval.
The institutes will "play a vital role in building the future teacher workforce," Winn said.
Hillsborough Community College and Pasco-Hernando Community College are among the schools expected to participate, though a PHCC official says that school still is seeking $500,000 for instructors and materials. The Legislature this year did not approve start-up money for the institutes, so community colleges will compete for a portion of $5-million in Department of Education grants.
"We're looking to deliver a program," said Paul Szuch, PHCC's vice president of educational services. But "how we do it and the source of funds to do it are things we're exploring."
The institutes are expected to be up and running this fall, with the first class of graduates teaching next year. The state predicts the institutes will produce 6,000 teachers a year within five years.
They couldn't come soon enough.
Florida will need 30,000 new teachers by fall 2006 - almost double the current number - to replace retiring teachers and meet the demands of the class-size amendment. In the next decade, it will need 200,000 new teachers.
Meanwhile, the state's education colleges produce about 5,000 teachers a year, with many of them heading out of state for better pay.
The shortfall has education leaders fearing gloomy consequences.
By fall 2006, as many as 153,000 students could have math teachers who aren't trained in their field, according to Department of Education calculations. As many as 122,000 students could have out-of-field science teachers.
"This is the single greatest threat to achievement gains we've been making in Florida schools," K-12 Chancellor Jim Warford said in Tampa last week.
Supporters say educator preparation institutes will allow people with bachelor's degrees to get the teaching skills they need in a fraction of the time required for a traditional four-year education degree.
They must still pass teacher certification tests. And community colleges will be required to track their performance evaluations to see how they stack up against traditional teachers.
"We may even produce equal or better teachers than those coming out of the colleges of education," said Sharon Miller, dean of adult and continuing education at Hillsborough Community College.
Many will be older individuals who "know more about themselves" and bring different experiences and life skills to the classroom, she said. "I'm just looking at them as seasoned individuals."
HCC will find money to start the program even if it fails to net one of the state start-up grants, Miller said. The first class will be limited to 35, but future classes are expected to grow to meet community demand.
Interest is keen.
More than 200 people called or e-mailed the St. Petersburg Times after a story about the institutes ran in February. Hundreds have called St. Petersburg College in recent months and 140 attended two open-house forums at the Tarpon Springs campus in recent weeks.
The program is "unbelievable ... it's just so quick," said Jacquelyn Scannell, 21, a New York resident and recent college graduate who said she will consider signing up once she moves to Florida this summer.
Scannell said she has wanted to teach but didn't want to take education classes at the expense of her core area, English literature. Now she'll be able to choose between getting a teaching job with a temporary certificate or going to an institute.
Community colleges should be able to start competing for the grant money within a week, said Judy Bilsky, a vice chancellor in DOE's community colleges division.
Some schools will have an easier time than others getting the institutes off the ground, given questions about seed money, she said. But she said no community college has told her yet that they won't be able to participate because of financial constraints.
"We anticipate we're still going to have a strong start up," she said.
WANT TO TEACH?
For more information about educator preparation institutes, contact:
St. Petersburg College: (727) 712-5418
Hillsborough Community College: (813) 253-7980
Pasco-Hernando Community College: (727) 816-3490 or (727) 816-3325