The School of Education was recently awarded a $2.5 million multiyear grant to remove barriers for aspiring charter school teachers who reflect the communities they serve. The University of St. Thomas was one of just 10 recipients to be awarded a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant. TQP grants are intended to advance student achievement by improving the quality of new and prospective teachers in underserved communities.

For Dr. Kathlene Holmes Campbell, dean of the School of Education, the award represents an opportunity for progress.

“We’re thrilled that we won such a competitive award to increase the number of special education teachers in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and to create our first charter school consortium teacher pathway,” Campbell said. “By offering numerous pathways to become an educator and providing support from recruitment to retention, we believe we will continue to increase the number of individuals from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities who decide to teach.”

Faculty will utilize the TQP funds to create a cutting-edge residency and leadership program for area charter schools, but they will not be starting from scratch.

LEFT: Dr. L. Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan
RIGHT: Dr. Shelley Neilsen Gatti

Dr. Shelley Neilsen Gatti, associate professor in the Department of Special Education, and Dr. L. Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan, professor in the Department of Special Education, co-direct the TQP program. Gatti and Brusnahan have a proven track record in producing high-quality educators to serve underrepresented communities. Since 2016, the School of Education has been partnering with the Minneapolis and St. Paul public school districts to create a residency pathway for Twin Cities educators.

“This summer, we began our fifth year of implementing residency models for a total of nine cohorts and well over 100 graduates,” Gatti said. “We have experienced success in recruitment and preparation that has contributed to us removing barriers. These partnerships will continue and expand our legacy of school partnerships that began in 1948. We have a long history of successful partnership with area school districts. The absolute priority for this grant was to prepare teachers through a residency pathway. Our residency pathway is a comprehensive teacher preparation model that meets schools’ needs while reducing historical and enduring barriers to entry for teachers from underrepresented groups.”

Minnesota was the first state in the nation to adopt charter school laws back in 1991. Since then, the state has grown to include 168 charter schools serving over 62,000 students with almost 70% located in the Twin Cities. While numbers have grown, charter schools face significant challenges. Compared to state averages, Minnesota charter schools have about three times the number of students with limited English proficiency and almost twice as many students of color and American Indian students with about 13% less revenue per pupil. In addition, while public school districts benefit from encompassing many individual schools, charter schools are mostly single-site units. This inefficiency limits their ability to take on the type of long-term and resource-intensive projects that will ultimately close record racial achievement gaps in the Twin Cities.

Molly McGraw-Healy, director of charter school authorizing, worked closely with the grant application team.

“This grant has huge significance and will allow us to extend this opportunity to charter schools, which are much smaller than many traditional districts and thus have been less able to access these programs for their staff,” McGraw-Healy said.

Over the next five years, the majority of the $2.5 million award will be used to compensate residents completing the program.

“Our residency model is a 15-month graduate-level preparation program where residents work, learn and earn simultaneously. During this apprenticeship, residents take courses that integrate pedagogy and the practice of teaching. Practices are tightly aligned to the coursework. Residents are closely supervised between mentors, clinical supervisors, and other building leaders and work alongside a trained and experienced mentor teacher. Residents complete a master’s degree plus a teaching license,” Brusnahan said. “Another important activity of the grant is the development of a leadership academy. In partnership with MPS, we have prepared over 40 special education teachers in over the past three years. Collaboratively, we will design a leadership academy for residency graduates to develop their teacher leadership skills paving the way for future leadership career opportunities.”

Added Brusnahan: “The grant writing for this project was a team effort. We would like to recognize Michael Warnock, Emily Wingfield, Dr. Todd Busch and Stephanie O’Brien for their contributions to helping us submit this grant.”

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