College by and for teachers

Catherine Kearney, dean at Teachers College of San Joaquin, says program helps teachers and school administrators implement education reform. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Catherine Kearney, dean at Teachers College of San Joaquin, says program helps teachers and school administrators implement education reform. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Central Valley Business Journal, March 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

It is tucked away and hard to find in a south Stockton business park, but it may be a key to lowering the drop-out rate in San Joaquin County and ultimately leading to a far more skilled workforce.

Teachers College of San Joaquin, founded in 2009 as the first college formed by a K-12 school district in California, gives area teachers and school administrators the training and resources to be better educators for the future. It gives them the technological savvy that can be passed along to students who can use those skills to graduate, go to collage, and be prepared for a career.

“We’re not your average graduate school of education,” Catherine Kearney, dean of the college located in the building – part warehouse, actually – just west of the San Joaquin County Office of Education on Transworld Drive. “We’re really a teacher’s college founded by teachers. … There is no ivory tower here.”

Kearney said that teachers for years came to the county Office of Education pleading for more training as they faced some of the highest dropout rates in the state, the lowest rate of students moving onto college, and some of the highest unemployment among youth just out of school.

“So, we knew something was not working,” said Kearney.

Kearney said the county Office of Education has been offering training for years, but the full-blown college came out of a desire to provide even better training, training to help teachers and school administrators convey to students the important link between school, college and career. It is an example, said Kearney, of the county Office of Education’s innovative way of tackling problems.

Business leaders are included in the advisory committee for the college, said Kearney.

“The business community recognized that to some degree they had been left out of the conversation. … Ultimately, they are the consumer of the (educational system’s) product. And it’s always good to talk to the consumer.”

College officials want to reach out even more to the business community to hear what skills business owners want workers to have so that teachers can pass those along to students in school and they will be ready when they graduate. A survey to area businesses went out in late February, but the college plans to send it out again to hit businesses it might not have reached in the first installment. The survey soon may be on the school’s website – http://www.teacherscollegesj.org – and a link to the survey can be found in the online version of this story.

The Teachers College is far more than a place for turning out workforce trainers, though.

“We feel it’s a movement,” Kearney said of the teaching philosophy of the college. “Yes, you get a master’s when you go through the program. But it’s about changing the world.”

Teams of teachers and administrators at some of the worst performing schools in the region can work together to come up with real solutions to the problems that are keeping back some students. Faculty – many of them teachers and school administrators – help them come up with a program to implement in their schools.

Teachers College online materials and Kearney are apt to quote an unlikely source when it comes to education, Dolly Parton: “Figure out who you are and be it on purpose.”

The quote is about letting students know what they can be, said Kearney. And it is about teaching teachers and administrators – and ultimately students – the skills needed to be able to “build bridges over rivers we don’t even know about yet.”

Kearney said the school is on a fast-track for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

“You’re not legitimate without (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation,” she said.

“We expect to have accreditation,” said Kearney. “We believe we’ve done everything that an institution is required to do in seven years, we’ve done in two years.”

Teachers College works with teachers before enrolling them in the program and strives to have a flexible course schedule – usually from about 4 p.m. to no later than 7 or 8 p.m. – so that teachers and administrators can take courses after work, but still make it home to spend time with families. The course costs $385 per unit, but that includes an iPad, electronic or check-out textbooks, and a digital research service. Payment plans are available and some school districts allow for payroll deductions to pay for the training.

Some grants are available. Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation, a private family foundation that seeks to improve education in the United States, provided a $155,000 grant in December to provide fellowships so that teams of teachers and administrators can participate in the program, develop an educational program, test and implement the program, adjusting it along the way to fine-tune the program. That grant came after an initial $55,000 grant in 2010 to launch the Intrepid Fellowship Program at the Teachers College.

“We are proud the Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation is expanding their support of Teachers College of San Joaquin, validating our work to train educators to implement K-12 school reform specifically targeting career and college readiness,” Kearney said in a statement at the time of the December announcement. “The impact of (Teachers College) graduates and current students is already manifesting in schools across Northern California. With this support, even more educators will be equipped with the tools necessary to implement real reforms in our schools.”

“That team idea is a powerful thing,” Kearney added recently. “(Teachers and administrators) really see themselves as a catalyst for change.”

The first class graduated in May and already those graduates want to return to continue the learning and exchange of ideas. The college’s inaugural class included 64 students, said Kearney, when the college expected no more than 15 to 30 area educators would be interested. The current enrollment is up to 236 students and the college has turned out 68 master’s degrees and 74 teaching credentials. Not large at all by the standards of area educational institutions such as University of the Pacific, California State University, Stanislaus, or even the area’s community colleges, but impressive nonetheless for a 2-year-old college.

“What they’re telling us is they feel invigorated,” Kearney said of teachers and administrators who have been through the program and who experienced what she called an “educational renaissance.” “It’s that spark they felt when they first started teaching.”

Businesses wishing to participate in the Teachers College of San Joaquin survey can do so by following this link: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e5mirqb2gyw5kkja/start .

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

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