Blackburn College and Golden Apple take action to reduce area teacher shortage

Blackburn College and Golden Apple take action to

Golden Apple President Alan Mather (left) and Blackburn Interim President and Provost John McClusky (right) shake hands following the signing of a contract agreement for the Golden Apple Foundation Accelerators’ Program. Along with Blackburn, Golden Apple will be partnering with Eastern Illinois University and five (ROE) Regional Offices of Education – No. 3, 13, 39, 40 and 47 to fulfill the goal of resolving the teacher shortage crisis in Illinois. Enquirer Democrat photo by Jackson Wilson.

By: JACKSON WILSON

Enquirer Democrat Reporter

Elected officials and institutes of higher learning are attempting to address the teacher shortage within the state of Illinois.

On Dec. 11, State Sen. Andy Manar joined officials from Blackburn College and the Golden Apple Foundation for a signing ceremony at the Blackburn College Lumpkin Library.

The contract was presented by the Golden Apple Accelerators’ Program, a new teacher residency and license initiative. The ultimate goal is to prepare highly-qualified teachers at a quicker rate than before in order to resolve an instructor shortage issue looming throughout central Illinois.

The main targets on the Golden Apple recruitment radar will be college seniors who have yet to pursue any type of teaching preparation program plus bachelor degree individuals hoping to shift gears in their career path.

Along with Blackburn, Golden Apple will be partnering with Eastern Illinois University and five Regional Offices of Education – No. 3, 13, 39, 40 and 47.

ROE partners will be providing the following.

• A valuable residency placement to an accelerator.

• Place a mentor teacher from the district with the accelerator.

• Allow for appropriate release time to complete university coursework.

• Hire and offer career development resources for the accelerator in the two years following the residency.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, up to 50 candidates will be trained in order to earn their teaching licenses a year later. This will allow program graduates to be eligible for a teaching profession in the 2021-22 school year.

Program participants will receive:

• A $30,000 stipend to apply toward coursework or housing as they pursue their teaching license.

• Teaching licensure within 15 months.

• A one-year residency and training program in a targeted partner school district in Southern, Central or Western Illinois.

• Coursework at a partner university.

• Job placement in a partner school district in Southern, Central or Western Illinois.

• Instruction from award-winning educators.

• Mentoring support for the first years of teaching.

At the beginning of 2019, there were more than 1,800 unfilled teaching positions throughout the state of Illinois. It was pointed out, over the past decade, that Illinois colleges and universities were experiencing a 50 percent enrollment decline due to this massive layoff.

By putting together a series of initiatives, with this contract being part of the blueprint, Manar is hoping to use a $750,000 special fund for the 2020 fiscal year to bridge a gap  and  help resolve this dilemma.

“There’s times in life where one has to pull back weeds, turn some dirt and plant some seeds. That is what is happening today,” Manar said at the Dec. 11 press conference at Blackburn. “The promise of public education starts with bright and highly-qualified classroom teachers. While we work to address the root causes of our teacher shortage that has been described today as a crisis, the Accelerators program will help in streamlining talented young professionals into downstate
Illinois classrooms that need it the most. I was proud to advocate for this program and this year’s bipartisan balanced budget that was enacted by Governor Pritzker earlier this spring. I know this will have a positive impact on the school districts. Not just the ones I represent, but all across our state.”

Manar was joined by Golden Apple President Alan Mather, Blackburn Interim President and Provost John McClusky, Regional Office of Education No. 40 Superintendent Michelle Mueller, Blackburn Professor and former Golden Apple Scholar Michelle Stacy and Blackburn Education Department Chair Cindy Rice at the podium.

“I’ve known Senator Manar for a little while and I could not think of a better partner and champion for the children of our area,” praised Rice.

“There were two problems that came up with this,” explained Mather. “One was that universities have difficulty thinking of different models other than their own. The other is that political leaders are sometimes weary about trying new things. Both were solved in coming up with this Accelerator’s  program. Blackburn thought so differently about this, especially in its work thinking about how to get special education teachers into the classroom. Special education is one of the most dire shortages across the state and this could not have been possible without everyone’s thought partnership and leadership in making this happen. Also, Senator Manar has led the fight to address this crisis head-on. With him, the state legislature and Governor Pritzker’s support, we were able to address this ever-growing issue.”

“Golden Apple has a long history of dedicated work to ensure our students receive quality K-12 education that they deserve,” said McClusky. “Blackburn is also a logical candidate for this partnership. Our institution has always sought to find innovative solutions in relation to the rising costs of higher education and preparation within the workplace. Blackburn students don’t just graduate with a degree, but also a full resume. It’s our hope, by working with an incredible partner like Golden Apple, that we will be able to prepare excellent teachers to transform student lives in Western, Central and Southern Illinois.”

“To be part of this solution is critical,” stated Mueller. “All school districts in the Calhoun, Greene, Jersey and Macoupin counties have been affected in some way. This means that over 13,000 students in these 14 public school districts have had their resources stretched thin, taking away valuable opportunities from students who are already vulnerable. These include those with special needs, those coming from low income backgrounds and those who do not speak English. That’s what makes this partnership with Golden Apple so exciting. We are able to address this shortage and train talented new teachers from our area who will stay in our area to give these students what they need to reach their full potential.”

“I would not be here today without the Golden Apple Foundation,” said Stacy. “It didn’t just help to support and nurture me as an emerging teacher. It gave me the gift of lifelong dedication and commitment to public teaching in Illinois.”

For more information, visit www.goldenapple.org/accelerators.