Professor Laurie Lorence talks to a student in class

Building a Teacher Pipeline

September 19, 2019 | San Diego Community College District

San Diego Mesa College is partnering with the San Diego Unified School District, San Diego State University, and National University to mold a new generation of K-12 educators from diverse backgrounds that reflect the students they teach.

Professor Laurie Lorence
Mesa College Professor Laurie Lorence is among those at the SDCCD helping to coordinate the Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program in partnership with San Diego Unified School District and National University.

The Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program was launched in April and calls for a bevy of support services in creating a seamless route for high school students to earn a bachelor of arts degree and teaching credential, with an emphasis on filling a growing need in science, math, or special education. Mesa College will aim to enroll 50 students transitioning from San Diego Unified each year, with a goal of transferring 30 of those students to National University after two years. San Diego Unified staff is tasked with identifying potential future educators from the ranks of middle and high school students, providing them with the counseling and support needed to reach their goals.

In addition, Mesa College is partnering with San Diego State University on a separate, but related, five-year, federally-funded initiative to grow the number of students transferring into SDSU’s bilingual credential program. Mesa College is hoping to send between 20 and 30 students per year to SDSU through the initiative.

“We need to get more teachers of color into our schools,” said Mesa College Professor Laurie Lorence, who is among those in the San Diego Community College District coordinating the Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program. Indeed, a recent study from the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute found teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color.

“We want to bring teachers to the classroom who come from the community and who mirror the community,” said Mesa College Vice President of Instruction Isabel O’Connor.

The initiatives come as California is issuing a record number of interim and emergency credentials to teachers to help fill a growing number of staffing shortages. Eighty percent of California public school districts taking part in a Learning Policy Institute survey said they experienced a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2017-18 school year. The more than 10,000 interim credentials, permits, and waivers issued in 2015-16 were more than double the number issued just three years earlier.

The Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program – funded by Stephen Cushman of the Cushman Foundation, Peter Ellsworth of the Legler Benbough Foundation, and National University – is the more comprehensive of the initiatives. San Diego Unified students in the program will take dual enrollment courses that count toward both their high school and college diplomas. By providing future teachers free college courses in high school, a free college education at Mesa College through the San Diego Promise, and discounted bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at National University (no one would pay more than $7,000 per year and most will have their National University tuition covered through grants and scholarships), more doors are being opened for a growing number of prospective teachers of color.

“Many of the students we’re going after are students who never saw college as an option,” O’Connor said. 

The Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program has been under development for the past few years in coordination with National University and its Sanford College of Education, which is the largest single producer of teaching credential candidates in California and among the largest schools of education in the country.

“We have been engaging in faculty discussion and administrator discussions, everybody is vested and is working in tandem on how to best prepare students as they transition and on how to make sure they succeed,” said O’Connor.

The results will be almost immediate. Among the dual enrollment courses taught to participating high school students is a tutor-training class. Those who complete the course are eligible to serve as high school tutors.

“We’re all excited about putting this together because it is a comprehensive approach requiring the collaboration of San Diego Unified, the San Diego Community College District, and National University to make sure we adequately support students from underrepresented communities as they embark on their journey toward becoming tomorrow’s teachers,” said National University President David Andrews, who previously served as Dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

A key to making sure the initiative succeeds, Andrews said, is in providing the guidance when a student transitions from one education system to another.

Mesa College has long had a partnership with San Diego Unified. The Mesa College Teachers Education Program, for example, was created a generation ago because too many new teachers, not fully aware of the challenges that come with working in a public school system, were leaving the profession within their first two years. The Teachers Education Program is geared toward cutting that number by providing students a taste of the profession before they transferred to a university and secured a teaching credential. Approximately 200 to 300 students enroll in the Teachers Education Program annually, Lorence said. Pedagogy courses include Math for Elementary School Teachers, Music for Elementary School Teachers, Physical Education for Elementary School Teachers, and Teaching as a Profession.

Lorence termed the Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program a social justice initiative, and courses taught at Mesa could include U.S. History from a Black Perspective, or Literature from a Chicana/o Perspective.

“Part of building a strong workforce is the development of a diverse teaching pipeline,” said San Diego Unified’s Cheryl Hibbeln, who serves as the District’s executive director for school innovation and integrated youth services and who has been working closely on the project. “Through a formal partnership between the San Diego Unified School District, Mesa College and National University, San Diego Unified students will have the opportunity to be supported through the rigorous process of reaching a debt-free college graduation while earning a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential with the hope that they will return to their local communities as teachers

“This is a great three-way agreement that will benefit the workforce, that will benefit San Diego Unified, and that will benefit us in supporting students during their critical years in college. And, it will benefit National University, which is a leader in teacher training,” O’Connor said.

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