EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
As Marble Falls schools Assistant Superintendent Wes Cunningham sees it, it’s important for a school district to “grow their own” teachers.
“There’s something special about growing up in the community that you teach in,” the Marble Falls Independent School District official pointed out. “Their understanding of the community is so much greater, and they have this connection with it that’s quite deep.”
It’s not a slight against educators who move into the district from other areas. Cunningham knows they are incredible assets as well.
However, having strong roots in a community is a plus.
Recently, MFISD, in partnership with Fredericksburg ISD, received seedbed material for locally grown teachers. The Texas Education Agency awarded the districts approximately $161,000 each through the Grow Your Own grant program.
With help from the two-year grant, the district is adding classes to the Marble Falls High School curriculum geared toward students who want to be teachers.
“There are courses for students who are interested in becoming a teacher, and this grant helps us create a robust experience while they’re in high school,” Cunningham said. “Ultimately, if students are interested in teaching, and we get them into these classes, then there’s the opportunity to get them on track to become teachers.
“Hopefully, some of them would want to come back and teach here,” Cunningham said.
High school students will be able to sign up for those classes beginning this spring for next fall.
The grant goes beyond high school.
MFISD has a number of paraprofessionals on its campuses who are interested in earning teaching certificates. It’s not always financially viable for them to pursue a teaching degree. The grant provides needed support.
“We have quite a few paraprofessionals in the district who want to become teachers, and part of (the grant) helps them through (Central Texas College and Texas Tech University) right here in Marble Falls.”
The grant expands MFISD’s involvement in Texas Tech’s TechTeach program. Angie Cowart, TechTeach site coordinator in Marble Falls and Fredericksburg, said the program provides a direct road to the classroom for paraprofessionals and high school graduates.
And it can be done in three years.
Individuals earn an associate’s degree through Central Texas College then can move into Texas Tech’s TechTeach program.
“It’s a one-year, fast-track, rigorous program that’s from July to July,” Cowart said.
Students spend three days a week in classrooms with teacher-mentors during the fall semester. In the spring, that increases to four days a week. During that, students are also taking classes themselves.
“It’s a full-time job, basically,” Cowart said. “It’s not for everyone, but we have a lot of students who are coming to us later in life and are now in a place where they want to finish their degree or earn one. So this works out for them.”
The plan also works for recent high school graduates, but Cowart added that the TechTeach program requires discipline since it’s a one-year course.
But it works.
Last year, the four graduates who went through the program and did their teacher training in MFISD classes all landed teaching positions with the district this year. While they could have gone to public schools across the state, staying in Marble Falls had distinct advantages for them and the district.
“They’ve already been in the (Marble Falls ISD) classrooms, so they know the district and how things work in the district,” Cowart said. “They’re already familiar with the system and the culture.”
It makes for a much smoother move into the classroom.
Cunningham and Cowart highlighted another benefit of the program: cost savings for students.
Both the TechTeach and Grow Your Own grant offer financial assistance, but that’s not where the savings end.
Cunningham pointed out that students taking classes at Central Texas College and local Texas Tech University campuses can save a substantial amount of money on room and board by living at home while attending college.
“One particular student who went through our program graduated debt-free,” Cowart said. “With so many college students graduating with huge debt, the opportunity to graduate debt-free, or at least with a much smaller debt, is so important.”
“It’s great that our students now have a way to stay here in Marble Falls, earn their degree, and teach for us,” Cunningham added. “It’s something that helps us, our students, and the district.”
Marble Falls High School students interested in teaching should contact their counselor to determine the best way forward, while adults or high school graduates may contact Michele Hicks, the Texas Tech University at Highland Lakes academic advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (806) 834-4057 for more information.