BOZEMAN — Montana State University’s Department of Education and its partners have received funding totaling $6.2 million for a program delivered mostly online that is designed to recruit, train and mentor dozens of high-quality educators to work in rural areas of Montana.
The funds include a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and more than $3.1 million in matching funds and services from nearly a dozen partner organizations. They will be used for a five-year project, "Addressing Rural Recruitment and Retention in Montana," that aims to address a shortage of teachers in rural locations across the state.
“We are excited to provide training and professional development in the first two years of their teaching careers to residents of rural, high-needs communities along with the Montana Office of Public Instruction and our many statewide partners,” said MSU education professor Ann Ewbank, the project’s principal investigator.
“Our common goal is to ensure that every student, from Broadus to Lolo, and from Scobey to Troy, has access to highly effective educators,” Ewbank added. “The Teacher Quality Partnership grant has the potential to strengthen K-12 education in rural communities. When rural schools thrive, Montana thrives.”
As part of the project, MSU will educate 18 teachers during the grant’s first year through the university’s online Master of Arts in teaching program, which launched earlier this year. It will then educate 30 teacher residents annually in years two and three, for a total of 78 teachers educated. The program takes 12 months for secondary teachers and 15 months for K-8 teachers with extensive follow-up support in the first years of teaching. The master’s program targets individuals in rural communities who already have bachelor’s degrees and who have expressed a desire to teach.
Students enrolled in the program will have their tuition and fees paid and will also receive a living wage stipend, which allows career changers to engage in full-time study and complete a full semester of student teaching. In order to participate in the program, students must commit to teaching for three years in a high-needs, rural school in Montana.
The program is focused on recruiting and educating participants in rural parts of the state because that is where the need is greatest, according to Tricia Seifert, head of the Department of Education and a co-principal investigator on the grant. Other co-principal investigators include professors Jennifer Luebeck from the Department of Mathematical Sciences and Jayne Downey from the Department of Education and Center for Research on Rural Education.
“Our intention is really to provide an opportunity for education for those who don’t have the capacity to come to our campus,” Seifert said.
After students complete the master’s degree and obtain a position in a high-needs rural school, they will be supported in the first two years of their careers with carefully designed mentoring, induction and online professional development learning modules for new teachers, Ewbank said. Additionally, state partner organizations will provide multiple opportunities for professional development from which participants can choose.
The program will also provide professional development for school principals, superintendents and boards. Ewbank said that School Administrators of Montana and the Montana School Boards Association, state partner organizations, will design, coordinate and provide professional learning support to school leaders and board members on best practices for teacher recruitment and retention.
“This support is driven by a recognition that schools and districts create the organizational climate that leads to increased teacher recruitment and retention,” Ewbank said.
Seifert noted that the project wouldn’t be possible without the support of MSU’s partners and the generosity of organizations providing valuable services and matching funds.
Organizations supporting the project include the following:
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Western Montana Professional Learning Collaborative, which will provide access to online courses for all program graduates, as well as no-cost, face-to-face professional learning opportunities in western Montana annually;
The Office of Public Instruction’s Teacher Learning Hub, which will develop and provide online modules for all program graduates;
School Services of Montana, which will provide no-cost registration at professional learning workshops and conferences for program graduates in southwest Montana;
Montana Small Schools Alliance, which will provide up to 100 no-cost, face-to-face professional learning opportunities across Montana for program graduates annually;
Montana Federation of Public Employees, which will provide travel scholarships and complimentary registration to the statewide educators’ conference annually and a professional working dinner;
School Administrators of Montana and the Montana School Boards Association, which will design, coordinate and provide professional learning support to eligible local school leaders and board members who host teacher residents and employ program graduates;
Montana Rural Education Association, which provided $100,000 in cash.
Additional partners on the project include the Recruitment and Retention Task Force of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Project.
“Every partner organization from around the state supported our grant proposal,” Seifert said. “In under two weeks, we raised the match funds dollar for dollar. It was a true barn-raising. Everyone pitched in and we raised the roof.”
Elected officials also voiced support for the project.
“When teachers in rural areas have the support they need to make a long-term investment in the community, students get the quality education they deserve,” said Gov. Steve Bullock. “This grant will bolster teacher recruitment and retention in high-need areas to help ensure that our kids, no matter where they live, have access to a strong public education.”
“Recruiting and retaining high-quality educators in Montana’s rural communities is a high priority for the Office of Public Instruction,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen. “The Teacher Quality Partnership grant that Montana State University has received will allow our state’s teacher preparation programs to form new partnerships with K-12 schools and create Montana-made solutions to support teacher retention and recruitment.”
The grant is awarded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program, which aims to increase student achievement by improving the quality of new prospective teachers by enhancing their preparation, as well as professional development activities for current teachers; holding teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education accountable for preparing talented, certified or licensed and effective teachers; and recruiting effective individuals, including minorities and individuals from other occupations, into the teaching force.