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Western Participates in Innovative Teacher Preparation Program

April 19, 2006

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – Western Illinois University, as part of a consortium involving Rock Island County (IL) organizations, has received a $40,000 planning grant from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to build local partnerships as part of “Grow Your Own Illinois” (GYO Illinois), an innovative teacher preparation program that supports nontraditional candidates to become teachers and to teach in their communities.

According to Linda Tomlinson, director of WesternÂ’s Center for Preparation of Education Professionals, the planning grant will enable the University and its Rock Island County partners to build strong relationships, identify and recruit teacher candidates and create a plan for implementation of the program.

“In recent years, roughly four out of 10 new teachers in this country leave low-income neighborhood schools in their first three years of teaching,” Tomlinson explained. “The GYO Illinois program aims to prepare teachers for low-income schools that typically have the highest rates of teacher turnover and are among the hardest to staff in the state. By working together, the consortium can share its experiences and best practices to truly reflect the needs of our communities and build a program that works.”

The west central Illinois Grow Your Own Teacher Education Initiative, which includes Western, Black Hawk College, Rock Island and Moline school districts and the Community Caring Conference, is one of 10 Grow Your Own Illinois programs in the state designed to build partnerships among community organizations, universities, school districts, community colleges and employee unions. It is anticipated that GYO Illinois teacher candidates will be active parents, community members or paraprofessionals who already have experience working in the schools.

“We have found that teacher retention has become a bigger and bigger problem for many districts; however, we also know that many talented people in the Quad Cities region want to become teachers,” said Jannette Higginson, executive director of the Community Caring Conference. “This program creates an opportunity to prepare teachers who will stay in our communities.”

According to Higginson, the Rock Island County consortium, like others around the state, will use data to determine those low-income schools where Grow Your Own is most needed. Key data will include the number of low-income children served by schools in the community; numbers of students of color compared to numbers of teachers of color; rates of teacher turnover; and the number and types of hard-to-fill positions.

“This program is something we all should support,” said Jim Andrews, assistant superintendent of human resources at the Rock Island School District No. 41. “Grow Your Own will prepare teachers for the schools that need personnel the most, particularly those who live in our communities and want to teach in our schools.”

Tomlinson explained that the Rock Island County GYO would use initial grant funding to recruit potential teacher education candidates. The consortium will assess the college status and readiness of each candidate and if needed, will provide for developmental classes to help these nontraditional students hone their academic skills, especially in reading, math and composition.

“This program will provide a tremendous opportunity for many districts in our region to overcome teacher retention challenges in their schools, particularly those that serve mostly low-income, minority students,” added Rose Campbell, vice president of Black Hawk College.

Tuition will be provided for those selected into the program through multiple sources of financial aid and loans and support services, including childcare, tutoring and cohort support. Program loans will be waived after the teacher becomes certified and works for five years in an eligible, low-income school.

“By identifying schools that are experiencing teacher shortages and by recruiting teachers from those communities allows us to proactively respond to our schools’ and our students’ needs,” said Cal Lee, superintendent of the Moline School District No. 40. “We look forward to participating in a program that will benefit our children and our community.”

Higginson added that GYO Illinois is part of a growing, national movement to address the issue of teacher recruitment and retention in at-risk communities. In the past decade, school districts in numerous states have worked to “grow their own teachers” – including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and North and South Carolina.

“Grow Your Own Illinois is an innovative program which focuses on engaging community members to become highly qualified teachers who will teach in the communities that need them most,” said Randy Dunn, state superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education. “We believe it is a promising approach to addressing the need to recruit and develop new teachers for Illinois communities.”

For more information, contact Tomlinson at 309/298-1434 or Anne Hallett, director of Grow Your Own Illinois at 773/209-8134 or via email at, or visit

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Relations