The goal is better teachers as Pinellas and SPC launch new training program

The joint effort between Pinellas and St. Petersburg College aims to "ensure quality."

Published May 13 2014
Updated May 14 2014

Hire the best teachers. If you can't hire them, grow your own.

That's the philosophy behind a new partnership between St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas County school system that promises students an "elite" teacher training program with a greater emphasis on practical knowledge and more time in the classroom. The hook: a guaranteed job after graduation.

Superintendent Mike Grego, who formally announced the program Tuesday, called it one of the major accomplishments of the year. It's a key piece of his broader goal to attract and retain the best teachers for Pinellas County's public schools.

Pinellas made a significant move in that direction last year when it bumped its minimum salary for teachers to $40,000 a year, the highest in the Tampa Bay area. With this revamped education degree, Grego now has taken a step to boost teacher training as well.

"We're going to ensure quality into Pinellas County," he told School Board members during a work session.

School districts across Florida are increasingly competing for the best young teachers as a wave of veteran educators retire following changes to the state's retirement system. At the same time, many teacher preparation programs nationwide have been criticized for spending too much time on theory and not enough on practical skills, leaving new teachers under-prepared for the realities of the classroom.

Some new teachers have taken a single class in particular subjects, such as math or special education, before starting their careers.

The "Elite Educator Program" at SPC seeks to change that, calling for students to take education courses in all four years of college rather than just the last two. Students will have monthly seminars about teaching as well as a coach to guide them through their education.

The school district also will provide students with a $1,000 stipend to intern in Pinellas schools before graduation.

The program, which starts in August, requires slightly higher credentials from potential students. Instead of the typical 2.5 grade-point average, students will need an unweighted score of 3.0. They also will face a candidate interview, among other requirements.

Bill Law, president of SPC, called Pinellas County Schools "our No. 1 client," and said he was excited to respond to the needs of the community. Students, too, will benefit from more time in the classroom before embarking on their teaching careers, he said.

"The big piece in my head is the students have a lot more time during their learning experiences, they're out in the classrooms a lot more," Law said. "And then, secondly, an enhancement to the internship program so those students toward the end of their career are working as paid interns in Pinellas County Schools."

The program will prepare students to teach kindergarten through sixth grade, though both Grego and Law said they'd like to expand into secondary education in future years. Students will receive a bachelor's degree in education as well as endorsements in reading and ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages.

Students also will start the program in cohorts and take all of their classes together.

Times staff writer Lisa Gartner contributed to this report. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.