SMC Awarded $225,000 Grant for New Teacher Education Program

Saint Mary’s Kalmanovitz School of Education (KSOE) and School of Liberal Arts (SOLA) have just been awarded $224,694 by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to develop a new special education teacher preparation program that students can complete in four years.

Saint Mary’s faculty will spend the next 18 months developing and implementing the new four-year transfer program—called INSTEP (Integrated Special Education Teacher Program)—a partnership between SMC’s Department of Teacher Education and the Justice, Community and Leadership (JCL) major, and Los Medanos College, a community college in Pittsburg. SMC aims to launch the program in fall 2018.

“I’m so pleased by this grant because the INSTEP program brings together several of our strategic initiatives,” said Christopher Sindt, dean of KSOE and vice provost for graduate and professional studies. “It builds on our excellent JCL major and special education credential, it emphasizes the skills necessary for successful teaching in urban education, and it invites increased collaboration with two of our most valued community partners, Los Medanos and the Mount Diablo Unified School District.”

SMC applied for the grant in response to the commission’s call for proposals to address a serious lack of credentialed teachers statewide. One way for colleges and universities to accomplish this is to offer four-year programs that integrate teacher preparation into undergraduate studies, saving students a year in tuition and producing qualified teachers more quickly. Graduates of the programs will receive both an undergraduate degree and a teaching credential. Saint Mary’s is one of 29 California colleges sharing the $8 million from the Integrated Teacher Preparation Program Grant program.

“INSTEP uniquely targets the needs of understaffed public schools in Contra Costa County. Our special education program is very strong. This program looks to have a lasting impact,” said Assistant Professor Tamara Spencer, who is also acting associate dean for KSOE and director of Teachers for Tomorrow. Spencer will lead the new program, along with Peter Alter, associate professor and special education program director, and Monica Fitzgerald, associate professor and JCL program director.

“It also provides a fluid track for transfers, a sequence that’s still grounded by the SMC mission but streamlined to also meet the requirements to become a teacher in the state of California,” said Spencer, who added that the Justice, Community and Leadership major will ensure the graduates are especially aware of the relationship between social justice and education.

Students will be accepted into INSTEP during their senior year in high school, then begin their two years at Los Medanos, where they will take lower-division courses and core curriculum requirements, before transferring to Saint Mary’s as juniors. Once at Saint Mary’s, students will begin taking interdisciplinary courses majoring in JCL, and also start their special education credential courses through KSOE.

INSTEP students will do some of their teacher preparation in five Mount Diablo Unified School District elementary schools, in classrooms where the need for education specialists is high. Over 92 percent of these elementary school students qualify for free or reduced lunch; the majority are African American, Latino, and/or English language learners. The INSTEP program’s goal is to graduate 20 special education teachers annually, many of whom could go on to teach in the Mount Diablo district, helping to fill a dire need.

“This brings vibrancy and new possibility to our work and tangibly demonstrates our commitment to addressing the needs of California schools,” Spencer said.