Western, 5 WNC school systems receive “No Child Left Behind” grant

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University has received a grant of $128,617 to fund the second year of a project with five Western North Carolina public school systems that is designed to broaden the knowledge and skills of teacher mentors and improve the retention rate of new teachers in North Carolina.

Western is partners with the Asheville City, Cherokee County, Clay County, Madison County and Swain County school systems through the grant, awarded by the University of North Carolina Division of University-School Programs and Center for School Leadership Development under the national No Child Left Behind Act.

Western is among nine UNC campuses awarded more than $1.6 million in NC QUEST (Quality Educators through Staff Development and Training across North Carolina) grants this year. The statewide program is designed to fund partnerships between education, and arts and sciences programs at UNC campuses and school systems with large populations of students in poverty. It focuses on preparing, training and recruiting highly qualified teachers, paraprofessionals and principals.

Western’s partnership, Project SPACE (Supporting Pedagogical And Content Expertise), addresses several problems with current mentoring programs – including lack of resource commitment, mentoring skills, and pedagogy and content knowledge – and incorporates many of the components of successful mentoring programs, said Michael Dougherty, dean of Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

“Project SPACE uses a creative approach to more effectively support the professional development of beginning teachers and their transitions to the classroom,” Dougherty said. “The idea is to focus on broadening and deepening the knowledge and skills of mentor teachers so they can be more helpful to the beginning teachers they coach, thereby improving the chances beginning teachers will succeed and stay in the profession.”

The grant is enabling Western to work with a maximum of 30 teachers from the region, with the number of participants from each school system based on the size of the district. Asheville City and Cherokee County schools both have eight teachers participating, Madison County has seven teachers, Swain County has four and Clay County has three.

“This is just one more initiative by Western and its partners to ensure that the children of our region have qualified teachers who stick with teaching as a career,” said Dougherty.

In the program’s first year, specialists at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching conducted a three-day seminar for mentors and beginning teachers focusing on strategies to use when working with children and adults living in poverty. A support team of faculty from WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions and College of Arts and Sciences has been providing on-going support to teacher mentors and beginning teachers.

“The lead mentors have made a difference,” said Denise Shelton, a beginning teacher from Madison High School. “I’ve had a better year because of the help I’m getting from them. Now I understand why beginning teachers leave the profession.”

Project SPACE participants from both sides of the mentoring process are giving the program rave reviews.

“This project is helping me as much as it is helping the new teacher. To me, that is a great side effect to note in further research,” said Kathy Proctor, on leave from Swain Middle School to serve as a lead mentor for Project SPACE. “It seems that the veteran teachers stands to gain as much as the novice, and that would certainly help in keeping teachers in the system who are ready to retire. It has made me anxious to return to my own classroom and put off retirement until a later date.”

The project began June 1, 2003, with an initial grant of $331,416. The grant renewal will enable Western’s project to continue through Sept. 30, 2005. Grants were awarded based on evaluations by a national review panel.

“We are convinced, based on the first year of NC QUEST projects, that the partnerships will have the opportunity to significantly improve teacher and principal quality in our state,” said Richard Thompson, UNC system vice president for University-School Programs.

For more information about Western’s Project SPACE or any of the university’s initiatives to support the profession of teaching, contact the College of Education and Allied Professions at (828) 227-7311.