Earlier this year, the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) district made a public call to “recruit and train highly qualified individuals from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds to make a difference where they are needed most – in the classroom.” Six hundred thirty-eight individuals answered that call. After a rigorous screening process, 42 qualified and talented individuals were selected.
The 42 individuals make up the first cohort of the innovative Saint Paul Teaching Fellows program. At the completion of five weeks training this summer, the Fellows will begin teaching in the fall in secondary math and science, bilingual elementary education and special education classes.
“We know that teachers are what make a difference in terms of a student’s achievement,” said Norah Barrett, Site Manager for the Fellows Program, as she proudly introduced the group of 32 females and 10 males at the Program’s opening ceremony June 16. “This is a great program, and it has the potential to make a difference for the students of St. Paul,” added Barrett.
One of the Fellows, Richard Matthes, was an editor at Thomson West for two and half years. He had always wanted to be a teacher and considered the Teach For America program, but decided against it because he did not want to uproot his family. “I’m really happy that I got into this program, because I really wanted to be in an under-performing, high-needs school and work to raise the achievement gap,” said Matthes.
Valeria Silva, SPPS Chief Academic Officer, remarked, “Teaching today is a vocation. It’s a passion, and you [the Fellows] have showed us that you are committed by doing all the steps you had to do.” She encouraged the Fellows to make sure that their passion doesn’t go away. “Get to know your students. Find out what triggers them and don’t forget about them. Believe that you can make a difference.”
“I am inspired by the commitment shown to closing the achievement gap in SPPS,” said Lindsey Margraf, Director of the Training Institute. The Training Institute is a rigorous five-week session where the Fellows will spend mornings alongside a successful SPPS teacher, and afternoons in Framework Sessions where Fellows are taught using the Teaching for Student Achievement curriculum, developed by the New Teacher Project, a national non-profit organization that works with school districts, states and other educational entities to enhance their capacity to recruit, select, and train outstanding new teachers.
SPPS Superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen explained that this was an extraordinary opportunity to do something that the district has been struggling with for a long time – that is, to fill high-need positions with talented qualified professionals. The other two primary goals of the Fellows program, Carstarphen said, are: 1) to close the achievement gap; and 2) to accelerate the path to excellence.
According to the SPPS 2007 Annual Report, the SPPS student population is one of the most diverse in the country – ethnically, culturally and in the languages spoken at home. Forty-one thousand students were enrolled in SPPS grades K-12 as of end of school year 2007. Of that number, 30 percent are African Americans, 29 percent Asians, 26 percent Caucasians, 13 percent Latinos, and 2 percent Native Americans. In total, SPPS students speak 113 languages and dialects, and there is also a sizable new immigrant student population.
In describing the efforts behind the program, Carstarphen indicated that the District has made a long-standing commitment to this program, which will bring 30-50 teachers in the hard-to-fill positions to SPPS annually over the next five years. Carstarphen also noted that many people made sacrifices in areas that they could. For example, Hamline University reduced its tuition so these Fellows will be able to work towards their degree over the next two years.
“We are relentless and have a very focused commitment to the Fellows and their success,” said Carstarphen to the group. She also expressed hope that through this experience the Fellows will become a long-standing fixture of the SPPS.
For more information about the St. Paul Teaching Fellows program, or to become a 2009 Fellow, please contact Norah Barrett at 651-767-8198, or go to www.saintpaulteachingfellows.org.
Jennifer Holder contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.