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Educator completes master's fellowship

by Eplunus Colvin | June 11, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.
Council members Bruce Lockett (from left), Joni Alexander, Glen Brown Jr., Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley, GFPB’s education coordinator Mildred Franco, Jalon Hughes, Mayor Shirley Washington, council members Steven Shaner, Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Glen Brown Sr., and Ivan Whitfield pose for a photograph as the city officials congratulate Hughes on his accomplishment. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

Jalon Hughes, a former health and physical education teacher in the Watson Chapel School District and newly hired Southwood Elementary assistant principal in the Pine Bluff district, was recognized during Monday's City Council meeting as the first recipient to finish the TEACH Pine Bluff fellowship.

Recognizing the immediate need to attract certified educators, the Educational Alliance elected to focus on establishing a quality teacher pipeline and created the initiative TEACH Pine Bluff.

In the spring of 2019, Go Forward Pine Bluff established TEACH Pine Bluff to offer full-tuition fellowships toward obtaining a master's degree while teaching in Pine Bluff to certified teachers.

Go Forward Pine Bluff, in 2019, earmarked $690,000 over three years for the TEACH Pine Bluff initiative.

Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, presented Hughes to the council while the group's executive director and education coordinator of the TEACH program, Mildred Franco, gave a more in-depth description of the program. Hughes finished his master's in educational leadership at Harding University in May.

"His fellowship was valued at about $20,000, the cost to get a master's degree," Watley said. "He's a rare gem, being a black male teaching in the public-school system."

Graduates from across the nation are eligible.

According to Franco, there are currently eight fellows in the program obtaining their master's degrees.

Fellows who chose the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to pursue their advanced degrees receive, upon completion, a bonus equal to the difference between the cost of the master's degree and $20,000.

TEACH Pine Bluff Fellows were required to obtain the master's degree within four years and must commit to serving a minimum of three years (in the same district) after the completion of the degree.

The superintendents of the Pine Bluff school districts chose nine fellows (three per district) in 2019 to pursue master's degrees. In 2020, the superintendents chose six fellows.

"In 2021, TEACH Pine Bluff will be offering training and testing assistance to teachers who need to become certified," Franco said. "Mr. Jalon Hughes is a member of the TEACH Pine Bluff Spring 2019 cohort."

The Educational Alliance is an ad hoc committee of Go Forward Pine Bluff and consists of representatives from the education sectors within the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The Alliance's purpose is to implement the L.E.A.P. (Leadership, Education, Accountability, Pipeline) initiative as recommended by the Education Pillar of Go Forward Pine Bluff. The L.E.A.P. strategies focus on: (1) developing primary and secondary education institutions that are academically and financially sound, and (2) improving the education options provided by our high schools and institutions of higher education to meet the specific needs of employers in Pine Bluff and surrounding areas.

"I'm very grateful for the opportunity. I think it's needed, and I think this process has been very smooth," said Hughes, a Pine Bluff native. "I would encourage other teachers to get involved. A lot of people don't know about it. It's a great chance to go back and get your continued education."

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