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Saturday, May 8, 2021

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Teacher candidates at Casa de Oro Elementary School in Spring Valley Teacher candidates at Casa de Oro Elementary School in Spring Valley

SDSU Selected for National Initiative to Transform Teacher Preparation

Funding from US PREP will support an innovative partnership with the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District
By Michael Klitzing

San Diego State University has been selected to participate in US PREP, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded coalition committed to improving teacher quality and diversity in underserved communities.

The funding from US PREP will support Garden PLOT, an innovative partnership between SDSU’s College of Education and the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District that sends teaching credential candidates in general education, special education and bilingual education into classrooms to do their student teaching collaboratively. The idea is that having candidates from multiple disciplines learn and problem solve together will produce teachers more equipped to work with all students.

“We are excited that US PREP is helping to make this idea come to fruition and become sustainable for years to come,” said Estella Chizhik, associate professor in the School of Teacher Education and co-developer of Garden PLOT (short for co-Plan, co-Learn, co-Operate and co-Teach).

Chizhik and Laura Hall, chair of the Department of Special Education, are co-principal investigators on the project. Saul Maldonado, assistant professor in the department of dual language and English learner education, is project evaluator.

"This is about being part of the national voice of change and having San Diego State be a leader in this work," Hall said.

A national coalition

US PREP (University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation) launched in 2015 to advance a new model of teacher preparation and school district reform. The model emphasizes collaboration between teacher education programs and public school districts, as well as intensive clinical experiences and mentoring for teacher candidates.

SDSU is among seven universities announced as new partners in the coalition, which is funded by the California-based Silver Giving Foundation as well as the Gates Foundation.

"We thought US PREP might provide support for what we wanted to do—to transform all three SDSU teacher preparation programs so that there's more collaboration and more consistency across our departments,” Hall said.

Blossoming partnership

La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools approached SDSU in 2016 seeking to address its needs amid a statewide teacher shortage. Inspired by the cross-disciplinary model they witnessed within the district, Chizhik and Regina Brandon, associate professor in special education, developed Garden PLOT.

The initiative sends a cohort of 30 general education candidates and five special education candidates to complete their student teaching within the district, using Northmont Elementary School in La Mesa as a demonstration site. 
"This partnership is phenomenal in that sense that we have access to the heads of the departments and the professors,” said Tina Sardina, assistant superintendent for La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools. “We're collaborating to make sure we're providing successful student teaching experiences, and they are looking to us and embracing a lot of what we're doing.

“It's the first time that I've felt we've been on an even playing field with our university partner.”
Expanding impact

US PREP will provide three years of funding, enabling SDSU faculty to transform and assess the programs while providing stipends for mentor teachers and other district personnel who provide support and guidance to credential candidates.

La Mesa-Spring Valley also received a California Commission on Teacher Credentialing grant to provide full tuition support at SDSU for 10 credential candidates across the three disciplines for three years. Participants must commit to teaching in La Mesa-Spring Valley schools for four years after receiving their Preliminary California Teaching Credential.