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Arkansas Academy prepares its last 22; UA winds down teaching project

by Jaime Adame | July 5, 2022 at 7:02 a.m.
Kassandra Salazar (left), a sophomore at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, speaks Tuesday, April 5, 2016, to a group of 11th-grade students from Heritage High School in Rogers as they walk past Old Main while on a tour of the university campus in Fayetteville.

A final group of 22 teachers are being trained for placement in high-poverty schools as part of a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville program funded by the Walton Family Foundation, according to a UA professor.

The Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity will cease operations at the end of June in 2024, said Tom Smith, a UA education professor who co-wrote the proposal to start the academy.

Teachers participating in the program work full time while also taking classes that go toward a UA master's degree in educational equity.

The effort struggled to meet target goals after launching in 2017 with a $10.2 million Walton grant.

Announced as a pilot project, the stated goal was to train between 150 and 200 early-career teachers.

As of this past November, 97 teachers had begun the program with 47 completing it, Smith said last year. Three more earned their master's degrees this past May, Smith said last month.

The emergence of covid-19 affected recruitment, Smith has said, adding that some program participants underestimated the difficulty of combining full-time teaching with graduate coursework. Also, the program recruited teachers from outside the state, contributing to the difficulty for some, he has said.

The academy put a pause on enrolling new teachers but began accepting applications again this March, with about 40 applying, Smith said.

In June, the new group of 22 teachers met for three days of in-person training in Little Rock and are set to start academic coursework on July 5, Smith said. In addition, eight teachers are on track to graduate next May, Smith said.

"All 30 of these fellows will receive full tuition assistance, and academic coaching as previous academy members have received," Smith said in a statement.

The teachers will be placed in various schools, including in North Little Rock, Hope and Forrest City.

Kendall Owens, a spokesman for the Forrest City School District, in an email said many schools "across the state and across the country" as well as in Forrest City "face an issue" with finding "qualified, trained teachers."

At Forrest City High School, about three out of every four students in the approximately 600-student school are considered low income, according to state data.

The district in what's considered the Arkansas Delta region has "taken many diverse measures over the years to provide opportunities for new and experienced educators," Owens said.

Smith said about $3.9 million in Walton grant money that hasn't previously been spent will cover the program's costs over the next two years, including the salaries for three staffers: a director of operations and two academic coaches who work to train teachers.

It's not yet known if UA will continue to offer the master's degree program in educational equity once the academy program ends, Smith said.

Print Headline: Arkansas Academy prepares its last 22


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