RACINE — After just one year, the 19 participants in Racine Unified’s teacher residency training program have obtained 21 college credits and are halfway to certification.

The district began its School-based Teacher Academies of Racine, or STAR program, last year. STAR is a partnership between Unified and University of Wisconsin-Parkside that allows participants to teach at district schools for two years while they work toward obtaining a teaching certificate. It’s the first program of its kind in the state and is serving as a model to other districts looking into creating similar programs. The first two-year group of students is training to be special education teachers.

Rosalind Hardy, a STAR resident teacher in training, described the program as “difficult” and said it takes excellent time management. Participants must complete their school coursework while also working as full-time teachers. That means making lesson plans, dealing with parents and collaborating with other teachers. Hardy believes that she and her colleagues will be more than ready to teach on their own by June 2020 when their cohort is set to complete the program.

“Right now with all the supports and all the help that we’re getting from our instructors and the district, we will be overqualified,” Hardy said. “When I say they are pulling no punches, making sure we know every aspect of our job or of teaching, that’s exactly what the program is doing.”

The residency

The STAR students teach in a Unified classroom four days per week and attend classes taught by UW-Parkside instructors at the Unified administrative campus each Friday while substitutes teach their classes.

The goal is for the students in the program to continue teaching for the district after they are certified and to remain in the schools where they trained.

Unified chose a special education focus for its first group of STAR teachers because the district has a shortage of teachers in that area. The program is designed to create highly qualified special education teachers and to address retention rates at Unified schools for a diverse group of teachers.

STAR was designed to help break down barriers to aspiring teachers becoming fully licensed and certified. One of those barriers is passing Wisconsin’s Foundations of Reading test, which is a requirement to obtain a special education teaching license in the state, so some of STAR’s coursework directly addresses skills aspiring teachers need to pass the test.

Hardy, a 53-year-old Kenosha woman, had worked in the district’s department of family and community engagement for 7 months prior to starting in the STAR program. In college, Hardy had initially majored in education but ultimately ended up obtaining a degree in sociology. With the help of her mother, Hardy decided this was a chance to finish what she started.

“To me, it’s just fun,” Hardy said. “It really is fun interacting with kids and their parents. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s days where you don’t get along with either one sometimes. There’s disagreements. But at the end of the day, you remember that the whole purpose of teaching is that you’re just helping kids find their way. Sometimes you’re helping kids find their way and sometimes you’re helping their parents also find their way to help their kids.”

Hardy teaches students in kindergarten through second grade at Mitchell Elementary School, 2713 Drexel Ave. She said at every level of the program, the resident teachers have the support they need to be successful. Each STAR teacher has an experienced mentor teacher in their building, who they observe, co-plan and co-teach with as well as a champion who provides them with one-on-one coaching.

A team

Hardy said the cohort is like a team that has each others’ backs and encourages one another.

“Having other people that are in the trenches with you who understand what you’re going through has been really helpful,” Hardy said.

The district pays half the tuition for program participants, who also receive a first-year teacher salary. In exchange, participants must commit to five years of teaching in the district. If the teacher does not follow through on that promise, he or she will have to reimburse the district for the tuition.

Unified plans to begin recruiting participants for the next group of STAR teachers in December. They are set to start training in summer 2020.

During a July 1 School Board meeting, Angela McCarty, director of performance management and evaluation systems, reported to the board on the first year of the STAR program.

“I have spent way too much of my life on the School Board, and we have spent a long time as a district talking about what you’re doing here,” said board member Dennis Wiser. “So to see it come to fruition, to see it being done well, with enthusiasm, with engagement is just a delight.”

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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