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Forward Arkansas Awards UA Little Rock Phase II Grant to Improve Recruitment and Training for K-12 Teachers

Melissa Hardeman, a senior instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, works with math students in the classroom. Photo by Ben Krain.
Melissa Hardeman, a senior instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, works with math students in the classroom. Photo by Ben Krain.

Forward Arkansas has named the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as one of two phase II grant recipients who will work with expert national partners in a multi-year collaborative program to recruit, train, and retain K-12 teachers in Arkansas.

UA Little Rock will receive more than $453,000 as part of the implementation of phase II. Altogether, UA Little Rock will be receiving direct funding and comprehensive ongoing technical assurance from expert partners that is totaling more than $1.6 million over the next three years to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of the state’s teacher workforce.

Forward Arkansas launched the Education Preparation Program Design Collaborative last year. Eight universities received grants of $100,000 to develop a transformation plan that captures their vision for change and aligns with the Arkansas Department of Education’s future direction for educator preparation.

UA Little Rock and Southern Arkansas University were selected as phase II grant recipients because the universities “developed bold, innovative plans for transformation” that “have the potential to dramatically impact the teacher pipeline” in the state, according to Ben Kutylo, executive director of Forward Arkansas.

“Throughout the first phase of the collaborative, UA Little Rock demonstrated a continuous commitment to the bold transformation of their educator preparation program,” Kutylo said. “We are excited to support them in achieving their vision and for the impact they will have on teachers and students in Little Rock.”

UA Little Rock will focus on increasing the number and diversity of candidates entering and graduating from their programs and transforming the entire experience for teacher candidates to be more practice-based, so teachers are ready for their classrooms on day one.

“We are deeply grateful to Forward Arkansas for giving us the opportunity to implement the transformation plan our teacher education team has created,” Chancellor Christina S. Drale said. “We believe this new approach will enable us to produce more K-12 teachers for Arkansas from a wider variety of backgrounds who will be better prepared and more resilient upon graduation. We can’t wait to get started!”

Dr. Sarah Beth Estes, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education, and Dr. Kent Layton, director of the School of Education, will serve as UA Little Rock’s co-principal investigators on the grant.

One of the innovative solutions to better prepare teachers for the classroom includes paid residencies where teaching candidates will spend one year working with a partner school. Candidates will also receive support from a site coordinator in addition to their mentor teacher. Site coordinators will be housed at the school even though they are university faculty.

“Our intention is to become the No. 1 provider of day one ready teachers in the state,” Estes said. “We are looking forward to providing our future teachers paid residencies. By the time they graduate, our teacher candidates will be exposed to everything they will need to know by the time they step foot in the classroom as teachers. We are committed to improving teacher preparation so that we can also improve teacher recruitment and retention, thereby improving the learning environment for children in Arkansas.”

UA Little Rock is partnering with local school districts to oversee the residency program that will begin during the fall 2023 semester. These collaborative partnerships will help UA Little Rock better understand the changing needs of K-12 students as the program evolves. Additionally, the university will collect data on teacher candidates and graduates during their first five years in the profession to support continuous improvement in teacher education and training.

In addition to the second phase grant, Forward Arkansas also announced the continuation of the overall Design Collaborative for all eight universities from the program’s first phase. The additional participating universities include Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Harding University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and the University of Central Arkansas.

“The decisions were difficult. Overall, we were humbled by the commitment, engagement, and hard work of all eight participating universities over the last year of the Design Collaborative,” Kutylo said. “It exceeded our expectations. Therefore, to maintain the momentum, we are committing to an additional two years of the Collaborative and look forward to supporting the transformative work that will continue.”

In the upper right photo, Melissa Hardeman, a senior instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, works with UA Little Rock math students in the classroom. Photo by Ben Krain.