Teacher education program rated “exemplary” on state report card

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University’s teacher education program has moved to the head of the class, according to a report card issued Wednesday, Sept. 12, by the N.C. State Board of Education, which held its monthly meeting in Cullowhee.

Western earned a score of 136 out of a possible 150 in the Performance Report on Teacher Education Programs for 2000-01, placing WCU among the top four programs of the 47 institutions of higher education in North Carolina that offer teacher education programs.

“Teacher education is one of the primary pillars on which we will build the future of this university,” said WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo. “I can think of no better recognition than to know that our graduates who work with the state’s children are the best that they can be.”

The report, required by the Excellent Schools Act, was issued by the State Board of Education during its Sept. 12 meeting at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. It represents North Carolina’s primary effort to hold colleges and universities accountable for their role in preparing classroom teachers to work in the state’s schools. Each program is evaluated in a variety of categories, including graduate and employer surveys, test scores of prospective teachers and teacher education graduates, and the percentage of teachers employed.

Institutions receiving 135 or more points are designated “exemplary.” Those earning less than 105 are designated “low-performing,” and are required to submit plans for program improvement.

“It is quite an honor to be selected as an exemplary teacher education university,” said A. Michael Dougherty, dean of Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions. “We have a wonderful teacher education faculty and staff, and I am delighted they have been recognized in this manner for their outstanding efforts in educating teachers.”

Western’s latest marks on the “state report card” show a six-point improvement over last year’s score. Dougherty attributed the increase to a growing number of partnerships with public school systems, and to widespread institutional support for teacher preparation programs at a university founded in 1889 as a teacher education school.

“The entire university, from the chancellor on down, contributes to and is supportive of our teacher education programs. The teacher education faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions is second to none. They go that extra mile with their students, and this year’s results show that,” he said.

“Our College of Arts and Sciences provides our students, the teachers of tomorrow, with a strong background in liberal studies and a deep understanding of the subjects they are going to teach,” he said. “At Western, we believe it takes a partnership to educate a teacher. We enjoy very strong relationships with all of the school districts in our region, and we involve them heavily in the education of our teachers.”

Those partnership efforts include the Model Clinical Teaching Program, in which practicing public school teachers co-teach several courses with WCU faculty to bring a “real-world” perspective to the classroom, and the placement of interns and student teachers in public schools from Cherokee County to Transylvania County.

“We are very appreciative of our public school partners. Teacher education students must have extensive field experiences in school settings in order to be prepared at the onset of their careers for the challenges of teaching,” Dougherty said. “Also, our students themselves have contributed to our program’s exemplary status. Many of our students catch our passion about teaching and go far beyond what is expected of them.”

Gary Steppe, superintendent of the Cherokee County School System, attended the State Board of Education meeting at NCCAT. “In our school system, we have always put a high level of importance on the quality of the teachers we hire. Good schools start with good teachers,” Steppe said. “More than 50 percent of our teachers have either undergraduate or graduate degrees from Western. Our county has one of the lowest teacher turnover rates in the state, and we consistently do very well in the area of student achievement. I think this is attributable to the very strong undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs at Western.”