May 9, 2018

Cameron Foundation, VCU School of Education partner to launch teacher residency program in Petersburg schools

Among those attending RTR Petersburg Selection Day in April, (left to right) Martha Sanchez, Sydney Lilly, Jayne Benitez are the first three residents in the pilot expansion of RTR at Ettrick Elementary School. Cierra Claughton (second from right), who was among the inaugural cohort of RTR in Richmond, now works in Petersburg City Public Schools. Kim McKnight (far right) is the director of the RTR Petersburg program. (Photo: Ann Cherry, Richmond Teacher Residency)

Following The Cameron Foundation’s approval of $350,382 towards an innovative teacher residency program in Petersburg schools, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is under way with its selection process to form a cohort of residents for the new initiative. The plan is being implemented by Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR), a program of the VCU School of Education.

Cameron President J. Todd Graham explained that the Foundation began investigating different proactive strategies to support Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) in 2015, after the Foundation hired its first fellow. The researcher identified a number of approaches that could benefit the struggling school division.

Through its dialogue with the PCPS school board and administration at the time, the Foundation committed to funding an in-depth, independent review and strategic plan. “This plan, Innovate 2022, identified recruiting, developing and retaining teachers as the most critical issue facing the school system,” noted Graham, adding, “Ultimately, a teacher residency program was chosen as the best option to respond to this priority for the school division.”

A 2014 report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission examined ways to address the critical shortage of effective, committed teachers in urban high poverty schools. The commission singled out teacher residencies as a targeted long-term solution to this challenge and recommended state funding to replicate VCU’s successful Richmond Teacher Residency.

Much like medical residency models, teacher residencies are teacher-training programs that partner with universities and area school districts. They give aspiring teachers an opportunity to earn a master’s degree while gaining first-hand teaching experience in a public school under the supervision of a veteran teacher. At the end of their residency year, the new teachers agree to serve at least three years in a classroom in the targeted school district.

The model was piloted locally in April 2017 in Chesterfield County’s Ettrick Elementary School, when The Cameron Foundation awarded $62,000 to place three RTR teacher residents there. It was part of a broader effort to improve outcomes at the Ettrick school, which returned to fully accredited status at the same time that the residents began their service in the 2017-2018 school year.

In June 2017, the Foundation also engaged in a study to determine the viability of scaling a teacher residency program in Petersburg schools. The findings led to the development of a five-year plan to launch and sustain the program. Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, RTR will place two teams of residents, up to four each, at A.P. Hill Elementary School and J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School. The schools have qualified mentor teachers who have applied to mentor these teacher residents.

“I am excited about the fine work of our Teaching and Learning department and RTR program, and how it is impacting teacher retention and student learning outcomes for our residents,” said Dr. Andrew P. Daire, Dean of VCU School of Education, adding, “I am excited about our efforts to expand the work, research and impact of this program.”

Over the next 14 months, the participants will complete a concentrated program of graduate study to earn a degree through VCU’s School of Education. Residents begin classes this month, with coursework throughout the summer and next academic year. Each one will be assigned to a classroom with a trained mentor teacher for the 2018-2019 school year, gaining an increasing load of co-teaching over that time. The residents will receive guidance and support from the RTR staff, the PCPS mentor teachers and VCU faculty. At the conclusion of their training in June 2019, the newly minted teachers will begin their three-year commitments as full-time teachers in Petersburg schools.

Each year over the five-year grant period, RTR will bring in additional cohorts of teacher residents, with an estimated 58 teachers incorporated into the school division by the close of the five-year period.

Dr. Therese A. Dozier, Director of the Center for Teacher Leadership & Richmond Teacher Residency at VCU, commented, “We are excited about this opportunity to apply what we’ve learned from seven years of preparing, supporting and retaining highly effective teachers for Richmond Public Schools.” Dozier added, “We’ve dispelled the myth that people don’t want to teach in high needs schools, and we believe that we can accomplish the same success in Petersburg.”

The funding to expand the teacher residency program into Petersburg relies on a combination of public and private dollars. The Virginia Department of Education awarded $396,000 in the summer of 2017 for the planning and pilot year. During this phase, the Foundation began convening other funding partners to familiarize them with the PCPS strategic plan, as well as the pressing need to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. Both The Cameron Foundation as well as Robins Foundation, based in Richmond, have committed grants towards the program launch in Petersburg.

Graham noted, “In the Foundation’s proactive work, we often rely on collaboration to be able to achieve large-scale impact. We know that we cannot fund this systemic approach alone, and the RTR expansion will require continued support from multiple partners, both public and private, over the next several years,” Graham explained.

« go back to News