Thursday, March 11, 2010

Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, Northwest and Metro Regional Educational Service Agencies, Georgia

Certification/Degree Middle Grades
Special Education
Early Childhood
Education (Metro only)
Partners School districts in NW Georgia
and metropolitan Atlanta
Program Initiated NW: 2001
Metro: 2003
Total Program Graduates NW: 64
Metro: 23
2004 Candidate Cohort NW: 43
Metro: 40
Candidate Demographics NW: 66% Female
34% Male
76% White
17% Afr. Am.
3% Hispanic
3% Asian Am.
(2003 data)
Program Duration 2 years
Cost per Candidate/Who Pays NW: $2,250
Metro: $2,700
Case by case; combination of
candidate, school, RESA
In the late 1990s when some northwest Georgia school districts were experiencing student population growth as rapid as any in the nation, attracting adequate numbers of certified classroom teachers was a struggle. With higher education programs graduating fewer and fewer teachers, in 1999 almost 50 percent of new hires came from out of state. To address this critical teacher shortage, the region's superintendents raised the call for an alternative route to certification. The Northwest Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA)—one of 16 such agencies providing services and support to the state's school systems by region—responded to the superintendents' call by developing an alternative teacher preparation program. The program was approved by the Professional Standards Commission as meeting its standards, which are, themselves, based on the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium standards.

The following year the Professional Standards Commission facilitated the development of a statewide program modeled on that created by the Northwest RESA. Later named the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (GA TAPP), the two-year, research-based program offers a low-cost method for bringing fully certified high-quality teachers into Georgia schools. Today, there are 9 RESA-operated GA TAPP programs, including the original NW RESA program, which serves 16 school districts across 11 mostly rural counties, and a closely linked sister program developed by the Metro RESA, which serves 11 school districts in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Today, the two RESAs coordinate and collaborate, learning from each other to continuously improve their respective programs while always keeping an eye on how best to serve their own particular constituent districts.

Although some of the specifics vary between the two programs, like all GA TAPPS, they both use a two-phase approach. Phase 1 begins in the summer with candidates taking an intensive "Essentials" course that introduces them to best practices and gives them information about professional roles and responsibilities of educators, code of ethics, parent communication, and special education issues. (For teachers hired after the start of the school year, the class is taught in the evenings and on Saturdays or the candidate may be required to take a "Five-Day Survival Course" before entering the classroom until the Essentials course is available again.) Phase 2 has candidates teaching in the classroom supported by intensive mentoring and supervision and monthly seminars.

Recruitment and Selection

Because its candidates are hired as regular teachers and receive a teaching salary as they move through the program, GA TAPP has been able to attract a wide variety of applicants, including males and ethnic minorities. One GA TAPP candidate who had worked as a long-term, albeit uncertified, substitute teacher, reports having looked into a teacher preparation program at a nearby university only to lose enthusiasm upon learning that it could take up to four years to become a teacher. Through the GA TAPP program, she has been hired at a school where she used to substitute and she is now receiving slightly less than a full teacher's salary (with benefits) until she earns a Clear Renewable Certificate.

Another candidate, a former industrial engineer, took early retirement and entered the program because he "wanted to give something back." One man, a former veterinarian with two small children, looked into other options, but says he was drawn to the practical, hands-on aspect of the GA TAPP program. A candidate who is expecting his first child says an alternative route to certification was the only option for him because he could not afford a lapse in salary and benefits at this time in his life. In general, the application process starts with a local school system hiring a prospective candidate according to its normal hiring practices. State mandated minimum requirements include a bachelor's degree in the field of certification or related field, a 2.5 GPA, a passing score on the PRAXIS I (unless exempted based on qualifying SAT, ACT, or GRE scores), and clearance on the Georgia criminal background check. Once the applicant has been hired, GA TAPP staff review the applicant's transcripts to ensure that he or she has the appropriate content background. Because the GA TAPP is not the only avenue to gain clear renewable certification, the local school system and the RESA determine the option that best fits the circumstances of each candidate, and some candidates are referred to other programs.

Although basic acceptance criteria are state-mandated, each RESA has its own variation on the selection process. In the NW RESA program, each district screens applicants on its own, although RESA staff might recommend a prospective candidate to a specific campus because, through their longstanding relationships with member districts, staff understand the needs and hiring criteria of each school system. In contrast, at the request of its member district, the Metro RESA pre-screens all applicants. This process includes a paper screening, a personality test, an interview with a panel of representatives of the Metro districts, and a question-and-answer session with a panel of first-year GA TAPP teachers.

Once applicants are accepted into a GA TAPP program, they apply to the state for Intern Certification and the program assigns them a Candidate Support Team (CST) made up of school and system-level staff who provide support for the duration of their internship.

Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy

The Essentials of Effective Teaching is a required course for all GA TAPP candidates and most take it during the summer before they start teaching. This 80-hour class, based on Danielson's framework, introduces candidates to best practices in Instructional Content and Practice, Planning and Managing the Teaching and Learning Environment, Instruction, and Professional and Ethical Practices. Each area has corresponding competencies in which candidates must demonstrate proficiency in order to pass the class. Through this course, GA TAPP teachers learn research-based exemplary practices in instructional pedagogy.

Additionally, to meet state requirements, candidates must take Introduction to Educating Exceptional Children and Youth and be able to demonstrate technology competencies, such as creating online activities and performance-based assessments, and aligning their curriculum with Georgia Technology standards. Also, candidates choosing to teach middle school have to take the Nature and Needs of the Middle School Learner course and the appropriate teaching reading and writing course.

The program also uses seminars, which are professional learning workshops designed to meet the candidates' individual needs. For example, if a candidate's mentor or supervisor notices that he or she is having difficulty managing pupils, a "Classroom Management" seminar could be recommended. These seminars are problem-based and aligned with Danielson's framework. Candidates are required to attend a minimum of six seminars the first year and four the second year. Seminars also serve as a way to incorporate the latest research-based strategies and education trends.

All candidates participate in a practicum in a school that is culturally and socioeconomically different from the candidate's home school. Candidates receive release time from their classroom. In addition to observing instructional strategies and programs, the candidate may observe procedures related to discipline, parental involvement, community support, classroom space, or other areas of interest. A conference follows each practicum to discuss and reflect on what was observed.

Mentoring, Supervision, and Support

At both RESAs, the core members of the Candidate Support Team (CST) are a school-based mentor (a classroom teacher), school administrator (principal, vice principal), the system coordinator (a school system employee such as a human resources employee), and the RESA coordinator. Together, they ensure that the candidate receives daily support and supervision during the two-year internship. A support team may additionally include content experts, course instructors, and anyone else deemed helpful to support the candidate or advance his or her knowledge and skills.

The CST meets initially to review expectations with the candidate and then meets at regularly scheduled times and as many additional times as needed during the two-year training. Ongoing support is provided through a school-based mentor who observes frequently, provides specific feedback, and generally serves as a professional role model. Additionally, each candidate has a program supervisor assigned to him or her. The supervisor observes and meets frequently with the candidate, the school-based mentor, and the school administrator to discuss the candidate's progress and any additional support that may be needed. The school administrator and the system coordinator observe the candidate both formally and informally.

School-based mentoring by a classroom teacher is an essential part of the program, with candidates receiving a minimum of 100 hours the first year and 50 the second. The mentor, who receives a $1,000 stipend for the first year and $500 for the second, supports the candidate in a variety of ways, including in collecting evidence that the candidate has met the competencies required by the program and in organizing the program portfolio that will be part of the candidate's final assessment. On a regular basis, the mentor also observes the candidate in the classroom, coaches and demonstrates lessons, and facilitates reflective teaching opportunities. The mentor also arranges for the candidate to visit other teachers' classrooms and maintains and submits all records and forms required by GA TAPP.

The RESA coordinator and the rest of the CST are committed to the success of the candidate. Although there are many "evaluations," both formal and informal, the basic purpose of the CST is to support the candidate by providing the feedback, resources, and strategies necessary for successful program completion. One candidate reports that "everyone in the program is available to help at anytime—and that includes my mentor, my RESA supervisor, even the coordinator of the program." Most of the candidates say they could not imagine being a new teacher without the kind of support they received through GA TAPP. One high school teacher—a GA TAPP grad—says that from the beginning of the program she felt that she was "set up to succeed."


Helping to pay for the program is one way in which a hiring system can support its GA TAPP candidates. For example, a system may pay for the program in its entirety or may require the candidate to pay and arrange a payment plan. In some instances, a system and candidate each pay a portion of the cost. One system recently adopted a policy requiring candidates to pay back a portion of the fees if they do not fulfill their contract. At the Metro RESA, even though the member school system may pay, ultimately the candidate is responsible for the program fees.

Success Indicators

One of the best advertisements for GA TAPP is the successful teachers that graduate from the program. Superintendents, principals, and other related school personnel claim that GA TAPP teachers are as prepared as, if not better prepared than, traditionally trained teachers. In fact, two of the three new teachers voted "Teacher of the Year" in one school district were GA TAPP candidates. One alumnus now in his third year of teaching has been approached by fellow teachers and his principal to model some of his strategies for the other faculty on his campus.

Key Success Factors

The leaders of the GA TAPP program at both the NW and the Metro RESA do not just ask the candidates to master the four domains of planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities—they model it. One reason this program has enjoyed so much success is that the people who are involved in the program, from the top down, truly value an open exchange of ideas. They know what their local school systems need because they ask, and then they listen. This ability to not just listen to major stakeholders, but to seek them out, probe and question, and really flush out the needs of the local school systems is a major success factor.

Another factor is the commitment to constantly evaluate and refine the program based on evidence of success. The RESAs have created forms, checklists, criteria, and rubrics for all aspects of the program, providing them with a constant stream of feedback. This information is disseminated to relevant stakeholders (by email, through written correspondence, or meetings). After everyone has been consulted, decisions are proposed. This shared decision-making and responsibility model fosters tremendous buy-in at all levels.
There is a real passion and commitment to the program. One assistant superintendent notes that while the program itself might not be hard to replicate, "The heart, soul, and commitment at the highest levels might be harder to come by."

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