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Denver Teaching Fellows end five-year run

After placing 200 teachers with expertise in hard-to-fill subjects in Denver’s most needy classrooms, the Denver Teaching Fellows program is no longer accepting applicants.

The program – a partnership between Denver Public Schools and The New Teacher Project that focused on boosting the numbers of qualified teachers in math, special education and bilingual education – is now in its fifth and final year, program staff confirmed last week.

Kate Zdrojewski, who manages the program for TNTP, said neither DPS nor The New Teacher Project were able to secure enough outside funding to keep the program alive.

“We had a five-year partnership with the district and it’s been a really great partnership,” Zdrojewski said.

The competitive program enrolled only 5 percent of those new graduates and career-changers who applied, Zdrojewski said. Like many alternative teacher licensure programs, the Denver Teaching Fellows emphasized a short period of training followed by immediate classroom experience. Fellows were typically teaching within one year of being enrolled, she said.

Zdrojewski said she was unable to provide retention data for the fellows, though she said the program’s rate was 10 to 15 percent higher than the average teacher retention rate in urban school districts. Some statistics indicate half of new teachers in urban districts leave the profession within three years.

“We know through a lot of our data that our fellows are competitive first-year teachers,” Zdrojewski said.

DPS later provided data showing retention rates, compiled by the Denver Teaching Fellows program, for its first three years. See chart.

Jennifer Stern, executive director of talent management for DPS, said the teaching needs in hard-to-fill subject areas aren’t going away. Stern said her office would try to funnel the roughly $320,000 it invested in the DTF – $1,600 per fellow along with support structure – into other programs with similar goals.

“We worked with The New Teacher Project to try to secure additional funding support,” Stern said. “We really wanted to keep them around. We are now trying to figure out how we best fill that gap.”

Other alternative licensure programs remain

There are still several viable alternative routes for people interested in becoming teachers in Denver, including the Denver Teacher Residency program, Teach for America, and a partnership with the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Stern said alternative licensure programs are essential to make sure principals in the hiring mode have a “diversity of choice.”

“Universities don’t always fill the need,” Stern said. “Secondly, alternative routes bring in a different kind of candidate. Principals want choice.”

Ariana Gutierrez applied to DTF after learning about a similar program in Oakland, Calif., from a friend. She wanted to jump into classrooms “almost immediately,” she loved the idea of focusing intensely on closing the achievement gap, and it was a way to earn money while taking classes.

She was also excited to work with other teachers in training who were as passionate as she was. She was accepted into the 2010 cohort. Gutierrez is now in her third year teaching. Her first year, she was placed in a school that was ultimately shut down. This year, she’s teaching fifth-grade English language learners at Sabin World School, a campus with a pre-International Baccalaureate program.

Gutierrez said she began noticing some administration changes in the DTF a couple years ago. But she was still surprised to learn of its discontinuation.

“I was frankly a little stunned,” Gutierrez said. “It would have been nice to have an understanding of why the district is cutting the program. Is it based on data? Was it purely an economic decision? Were there issues with the Denver Teaching Fellows program?”

Gutierrez said DTF did one thing really well compared to some of the other licensure programs.

“Denver Teaching Fellows really made a concerted effort, and generally succeeded, at recruiting people who had more diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” Gutierrez said. “When I look at most of the people in programs like Teach For America and others, it is hard not to notice that their ranks are pretty homogenous and are mostly made up of people between the ages of 22 and 25 who just recently graduated from an Ivy League college.”

Another 2010 fellow and former architect, Shannon Wood Rothenberg, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Cole Arts & Sciences Academy, said she believed the DTF program was “particularly well-suited to midlife career changers … who bring real-world experience and job-based professionalism with them into the world of education.”

“I was disappointed to hear that the teaching fellows program had been cut … but I know there are several other similar options,” Wood Rothenberg said. “I do, however, think that DPS and its students will be worse off for losing this program, as I know many, many talented and dedicated teachers that have been a part of past cohorts.”

Retention of Denver Teaching Fellows in first three years

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