Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Stimulus funds to train teachers
Help available for higher degrees
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer
Federal stimulus funds will help more than 70 Henry County teachers earn advanced degrees, the superintendent said.
Henry County Schools has budgeted about $550,000 in stimulus money as a "working number" for the program, which will reimburse teachers seeking master's degrees or higher for much of the cost of their coursework, Superintendent Sharon Dodson said.
It is not yet known how many teachers will take advantage of the funds, Dodson said. About 70 teachers have attended meetings held to assess interest and indicated they would like to pursue advanced degrees, she said, and more are likely to express interest at upcoming meetings.
In response, the New College Institute is expanding its master's of education offerings and will add two more degree programs starting in the fall, said NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey.
"The children's success is largely dependent upon the skills of the teacher," Dodson said. "In order to continue our record of positive student achievement, we have to give our teachers the knowledge, the skills and the tools to be able to do that."�
Under the program, the division will reimburse teachers up to $720 a course for up to 10 courses, or $7,200 total, said schools spokesman Melany Stowe.
Most master's programs at NCI require between 12 and 16 courses, according to the institute's Web site. Teachers may take courses at NCI or through another accredited university of their choice.
Participating teachers must agree to remain in Henry County Schools for three years after the degree is awarded. They must apply for admission to the reimbursement program and have a recommendation from their principal or supervisor.
Dodson said the division decided to devote some federal funds to teacher education in an effort to be "cautious and thoughtful in how we budget for the stimulus money."�
"We want it to make an impact on education in the community. However, we have to always be aware that it is a two-year funding window," she said.
Because of the constraints, she said, "I made a proposal that we invest in our teachers because ... that was a way to extend the influence of the stimulus money beyond the two years of funding. Once the teachers have their degree, they have it forever."�
Currently, 36 percent of Henry County teachers have a master's degree or higher, Dodson said, "and our school division has a goal to increase that percentage to at least 50 percent."�
Stimulus funding falls into three categories: Title I, special education and stabilization, "and this advanced degree program would fall under all three," she said. It is not yet known how much stabilization funding the division will receive through the state, she said.
Once a teacher completes a master's degree, he or she will receive a yearly stipend of "a little over $2,000" on top of his or her salary, Dodson said.
"Quality teaching costs," she said. "If all 70 are successful, we're talking about a $140,000 increase in the budget, and I think that's a small price to pay for an investment that will pay back year after year."�
Some teachers will start taking classes as soon as this summer, Dodson said. The "vast majority" of participants said they will seek master's degrees, she said, while others who already have master's degrees said they are interested in the education specialist degree, which is the next step before a doctorate.
Using stimulus funds toward earning an advanced degree could be a "once in a lifetime opportunity for teachers," Dorsey said. "It's a very positive use of the stimulus funds."�
Dorsey said NCI recently surveyed more than 100 teachers in the county schools to find out which advanced degree programs they would be interested in pursuing.
NCI already had planned to offer three teacher education master's programs in the 2009-10 school year: curriculum and instruction, reading and counseling. Because of the increased demand, Dorsey said, the institute has added two more degree programs, in secondary math and educational leadership.
"The survey indicated that these five programs will meet at least 80 percent of requests by the teachers," Dorsey said. If teachers are interested in other courses of study, he added, "our staff will be happy to work with the teachers to help them find any other programs they want to take."�
The new math education program at NCI, which grants a master's of science in education degree, is offered through Radford University.
The educational leadership program, offered through James Madison University, is designed for teachers who intend to become principals or administrators, Dorsey said.
Teachers who hold master's degrees and want to complete the education specialist degrees can do so with the reading education program through the University of Virginia, Dorsey said.
The education specialist is "a halfway point to the doctorate," he said.
"At most institutions, you have to go to the campus to get the doctorate. This just shortens the time period they would have to be on campus," he said.
NCI recruiters already have signed up about a dozen teachers for the five education programs, Dorsey said, and three more information sessions for interested teachers are scheduled for next week in the county.
NCI will visit Bassett High School from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday, the Henry County Administration Building from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Magna Vista High School from 2 to 5 p.m Wednesday.