Schenectady eyes extending student-teacher classroom residencies

Stay at district would stretch two years
Schenectady High School is pictured.
Schenectady High School is pictured.

SCHENECTADY — The proposed Schenectady City School District budget includes funding to join a program pushing a new way of teaching prospective teachers: two-year residencies in the same classroom.

The two-year residency program, the Classroom Academy, is run out of the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES and aims to extend the student-teaching experience to two full school years, giving budding new teachers a chance to experience every nuance of leading a classroom.

Schenectady set aside funding in the proposed budget up for voter approval next week to allow for 12 student-teacher residencies in the district next year; the residents are slated to be placed in classrooms across the district at the elementary and secondary levels.

Juliet Benaquisto, president of Schenectady teachers union, said the extended placement will give teachers-in-training a chance to develop a close working relationship with the teachers they are placed with – called an “attending teacher.”

“There’s not sufficient time for them to really get to know the students and the teachers,” Benaquisto said of the traditional two-month student teacher placements. “Having a program like this actually gives time for that individual [teacher candidate] to develop and to have a collaborative co-teaching situation.”

The residency program is in its second year of teacher placements this school year and has residents working in Cambridge, Hudson Falls and Beekmantown school districts in the North Country. A total of 11 resident teachers are working in classrooms in those districts. But the expansion into Schenectady will open doors for the program to operate in a more diverse setting and in a much larger district.

Colleen McDonald, who manages the residency program, said she reached out to Schenectady earlier this year and was excited district officials have made space for resident placements in the budget.

“Not only do we want to prepare teachers to be able to really serve a diverse population, we also want to be able to recruit diverse candidates,” McDonald said. Stillwater schools has set aside funding in its budget proposal for two resident slots.

McDonald, alongside a resident teacher and attending teacher, presented the program to the state Board of Regents last week, showcasing what state officials suggested was a promising model for future teacher preparation programs.

“I realized teaching is an art, and if I’m going to be the best I could be I needed time and resources for developing that art,” Kayleigh Ward, the program’s lead resident, said at the Board of Regents meeting.

McDonald said teaching is a complex job that requires a deep understanding of what goes into managing the needs of dozens of students, mastery of content and first-hand experience dealing with students. Simply put, learning what goes into being a good teacher takes more time than what’s allowed in traditional student-teacher placements – potentially even more time than what’s allowed in yearlong placements.

Benaquisto said the attending teachers in Schenectady have not yet been identified, though interested school buildings have requested resident placements. She said she expected enough teachers would come forward to participate.

The attending teachers work closely with their residents, who will start in the classroom on the first day of the schools,  gradually involving the resident more and more in the planning and execution of lessons. The attending teachers also make progress toward the National Board Certification, a leading designation for master teachers.

The resident can fill in as a substitute if the attending teacher is absent and as the residency reaches into its second year, the resident teacher will be given more leeway to lead the class.

This spring and summer, the attending teachers will be involved in interviewing prospective residents before finalizing a match.

“It’s a two-year commitment, you want everyone to feel like it’s a good match,” Benaquisto said.

The current resident teachers placed in North Country schools come from the SUNY Plattsburgh graduate teaching program, but McDonald said the program is close to bringing on board two more colleges as partners in the program.

The program will cost the district about $31,000 per resident, with the resident earning a $22,000 stipend and the hosting teacher earning a $4,500 stipend. But the program qualifies for state funding through the district’s BOCES reimbursement rate.

By paying the resident teachers, McDonald said, the program allows prospective teachers to make money as they earn a graduate degree and teaching certification.

Schenectady district officials have been working to develop a residency or fellowship program that could target hard-to-fill areas and give prospective teachers a chance to develop skills and grow comfortable with the culture of Schenectady. The existing Classroom Academy residency program was a good fit, Superintendent Larry Spring said.

“It hits so many of the things that we know about what is good teacher preparation, what is good instruction,” Spring said. “The fact that it’s extended beyond a typical semester, across two years, we think is really powerful.”

After two years working in a Schenectady classroom, a resident teachers should know if they are interested in continuing in the district; and the district should know if it’s interested in keeping them in the district.

“Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping someone will be good in an urban setting, it gives us the opportunity to shape them: here’s what it takes to be good in Schenectady,” Spring said. “By the time you are done with your two years… you will have had a two-year interview and we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’ll cut it.”

The school district budget goes up for public approval May 21.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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