The expansion and replication of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline model in Central Illinois has hit the ground running in Decatur to serve this high-needs area.
The Pipeline recruited Shannon Mittleman, teacher and curriculum coordinator for Decatur Public Schools, to serve as the point person for the new Decatur Teacher Education Pipeline. The career move surprised Mittleman just as much as her colleagues; she discovered that her passion for supporting students and educators was rivaled only by a desire to recruit young, talented teachers to the city she loves.
“Decatur needs young, bright teachers who are willing to be role models and make a long-term investment in the community,” Mittleman said.
The Pipeline’s presence not only will help a high-needs area, but will also demonstrate the opportunities the city can offer young alumni.
“There are so many things to do and experience in this city,” Mittleman said. “These new teachers just haven’t realized it yet.”
Further facilitating the expansion efforts is the long-standing partnership between the Department of Special Education and the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education.
For more than a decade, special education teacher candidates have completed clinical placements in the area, including field base and student teaching.
Successful programming is also predicated on strong partnerships with community organizations, and Decatur’s Education Coalition welcomed the Pipeline with open arms. Teacher candidates began receiving clinical experiences in Decatur during the spring semester, and a community-based program will run in the summer of 2017.
STEP-UP, or the Summer Teacher Education Partnership for Urban Preparation, is a four-week cultural immersion fellowship combining clinical experiences in schools with service projects through community-based organizations. Teacher candidates live with host families and in the evenings participate in specialized course work.
Since 2010, 91 percent of STEP-UP alumni who began their teaching careers in Chicago are still in the district. With the help of alumni educators, Pipeline Executive Director Robert Lee believes Decatur can top those numbers.
“We have many opportunities to engage our alumni in the STEP-UP program and speak with our candidates about their experience teaching in this district. Our alumni have a tremendous amount of insight to share,” Lee said.
At ISU, faculty members in the Department of Special Education are in the midst of redesigning courses with an urban focus specific to Decatur. These efforts will enhance the department’s existing urban strand degree sequence developed in collaboration with the Pipeline in 2014 titled INFUSE, or the Innovative Network of Future Urban Special Educators.
In the fall, faculty will also begin taking teacher candidates to the city for service learning trips to work with the area’s P–12 students and community organizations.
These candidates will be encouraged to participate in STEP-UP Decatur in 2017, student teach, and begin their careers in the city. Those alumni will then be eligible for the Pipeline’s induction and mentoring program during their first two years in the field. For Mittleman and Lee, the future appears bright.
“Everyone in the community and the school district who I have talked to has welcomed this idea,” Mittleman said. “Just like us, they are excited for the possibilities.”