CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois University is slated to offer teacher education courses and support services for a new program that aims to help address a shortage of 1,800 teachers in Illinois.
The Illinois-based Golden Apple Foundation has recruited EIU to be one of two higher education partners for the new Accelerators Program, set to prepare 50 teacher candidates during the 2020-2021 school year. EIU and Golden Apple officials kicked off the partnership by holding a press conference on Tuesday at the university's Old Main building.
EIU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jay Gatrell said it's an opportunity for the university to partner with Golden Apple and participating Regional Office of Education units to meet the needs of school districts, particularly in rural areas, during a time of teacher shortages. Blackburn College in Carlinville is the program's other higher education partner.
"It really is an opportunity to launch new careers for individuals and to launch new opportunities for rural communities," Gatrell said. He added that providing a high quality education for young students is an important part of promoting economic development and sustainable communities.
Gatrell said the Accelerators Program would not be possible without a stable state budget and the support of the Illinois legislature, noting the presence of District 110 Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, at the press conference. Golden Apple has reported that the General Assembly approved $750,000 in funding for year one of the program in May and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill.
Alan Mather, president of Golden Apple, said they have found during their 32 years of supporting teacher development that educators who are recruited from a community are more likely to return there and serve long term. Consequently, he said, the Accelerators Program will try to recruit many of its teacher candidates from communities that are most in need, including in Central Illinois.
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"We not only need to fill the bucket with new teachers. We need to patch the holes," Mather said of teacher recruitment.
Among those in attendance Tuesday was Kristen Kendrick-Weikle, who was chosen this week to become superintendent at McLean County Unit 5. She was superintendent of Warrensburg-Latham schools.
Golden Apple reported that it will recruit candidates who are committed to four years of teaching in southern, central, or western Illinois. The Accelerators Program is open to college seniors and to "career changers" with bachelor’s degrees not in teaching but with backgrounds that will help them to teach in high-need areas, such as special education and STEM.
Participants will be enrolled in an accelerated 12- to 15-month licensure program designed to allow them to complete required coursework and a year-long teacher residency, leading to licensure in a designated content area. Most of the coursework will be done online. They will be eligible for a $30,000 coursework and housing stipend as they pursue their license, and for job placement afterwards.
Stephen Lucas, associate dean of the College of Education, said EIU was picked as a Golden Apple partner because of its long history of preparing teachers, going back to 1895 as Eastern Illinois Normal School. He said the program will offer flexibility for those wanting to change careers to teaching after having started families and taken jobs in other fields. He said the program will be open to all content areas, not just STEM.
The Accelerators Program will be accepting applicants until Feb. 20.