WilmU and Delaware's school districts are working to recruit and retain teachers in the First State.

WilmU’s grow-your-own teacher pipeline results in fast jobs

Jarek RutzDelaware Live, Education, Headlines

WilmU and Delaware's school districts are working to recruit and retain teachers in the First State.

WilmU and Delaware’s school districts are working to recruit and retain teachers in the First State.

Angelie Ross-Jimenez is 19 years old with an associate’s degree and a full-time job, and she has Wilmington University to thank for that.

The university has created a grow-your-own teacher pipeline program in order to address the teacher shortage in Delaware. 

Not only did teachers leave classrooms because of COVID, the state has 4,000 educators eligible for retirement within the next five years. 

Enrollment in teaching courses has declined by 67% since 2010, and some educators worry that high school students who watched the chaos that COVID created in classrooms may shy away from a career in education.

In the next 10 years, student enrollment in Delaware schools is expected to grow 7.8%, but the public teacher workforce is only projected to grow 6%. 

Added to that, neighboring states are starting to pay much higher salaries than Delaware does, sparking fears of teachers leaving the First State.

Education Secretary Mark Holodick has pointed out on numerous occasions during Wilmingington Learning Collaborative events that many teachers leave Delaware after five years.

The Delaware General Assembly tried to help stem the tide by passing bills that allowed grow-your-own programs, year-long teacher residencies for prospective educators, and a periodic evaluation of the starting salaries of Delaware’s teachers.

Recommended: More legislation in the works to address teacher shortage

Because of all that, “we felt very strongly that as a teaching institution, we wanted to assist the state in helping accelerate and increase the number of folks going through the teacher preparation program,” said Rob Rescigno,  assistant vice president of partnerships and community affairs at WilmU.

More than 50% of all First State educators earned some of their credentials at WilmU and 11 of the state’s last 14 “Teacher of the Year” winners are alumni of one of the university’s education programs. 

The student pipeline program started a year and one-half ago with WilmU offering classes in Delaware high schools to help their students interested in education get early college credits.

Now WilmU is approaching other districts to do the same.

Delaware already has more than 3,000 high school students enrolled in the Teacher Academy Pathway.  

Now WilmU is pushing its year-long residency program. That allows university students to be placed in a classroom with a mentor teacher for a year, in effect serving as student teacher.

So far, 100% of the students who participated have been offered positions in Delaware. Once the residency is completed, WilmU will cut their tuition in half as they go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Rescigno said that the college sees these programs as part of a “continuum of teacher development.”

They also have a WilmU Ambassador’s Program. Students participating in that program serve as ambassadors within school districts, shadowing teachers and helping the districts looking to develop their own grow-your-own programs.

Ross-Jimenez went through Middletown High School’s teacher pathway program in the Appoquinimink School District, a partner of WilmU.

There, she was able to take classes and rack up credits her senior year of high school that would count at WilmU.

The university also paid for a summer class to give her even more credits before starting her freshman year. 

Wilmington University’s program encourages participants to take the PRAXIS, which is a test that teachers traditionally had to pass in order to be certified to teach. It is designed to measure the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the classroom.

The university offers workshops, seminars and webinars to prepare the students for the exam.

Ross-Jimenez passed, and was rewarded with another 19 credits before even completing a semester at WilmU. 

She then needed just three more classes to earn her associate’s, which she finished.

Her next stop is Olive B. Loss Elementary, where she’ll be working full-time as a special education paraprofessional, while she finishes course work for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

She has about a year-and-a-half left to finish, which she expects to do at the age of 20. 

“I definitely feel valued and appreciated over my urgency to become a teacher and my passion being fostered in that, so I definitely plan on staying in the Appo district,” she said. “I haven’t started at Olive B. Loss yet but I already feel welcomed and loved in that environment, so I don’t think I’d be leaving anytime soon.”

Ross-Jimenez isn’t the only Appo grad with confirmed employment. 

Andrew Arot is 18 years old and has a full-time contract to teach in Appo once he finishes his four years at University of Delaware. He starts in the fall.

Appo chooses two students each year and offers full-time contracts as soon as they graduate from college.

Superintendent Matthew Burrows, mentor teachers and other officials analyze the student work and then pick one from the early education pathway and one from the K-12 education pathway for a contract. 

“It was such an astonishing thing to be a part of,” Arot said. “That security, that assurance of knowing that I already have a job once I’m done college is so comforting. It makes me feel like I don’t have as much to worry about and all I have to do is graduate college and then I’m a teacher.”

Arot and Rescigno both said the pathways do not limit students’ abilities to explore other subject matter and interests.

Arot is pursuing a degree in applied mathematics and not education or math education so he can have career flexibility if he ever wants to leave the classroom. 

“From the standpoint of a former high school principal, I would never force anybody to stay on a path,” Rescigno said. “If they come after the second year and tell me their pathway isn’t for them, then I and other staff will find that student alternatives.” 

He said the pathways are most successful when districts are flexible and allow the students to explore their interests at a young age.

“I use the example of a piece of fine Italian marble and a piece of fine Italian leather,” he said. “If you take a hammer and you pound that fine leather, nothing would happen, and it would be undamaged. Now take the same hammer and hit the marble, and it shatters to pieces. That’s because it’s too rigid, and that’s what districts need to avoid with their pathways.”

Mike Trego, Appo’s supervisor for college and career readiness, said that students have a lot more flexibility in these pathways than people might think.

“So the way our schedule is set up, they’ll take a minimum of 32 credits, and out of those 32, only four are the pathway and like eight or more are elective credits,” Trego said, “so really, the students have more opportunities to dabble in other pathways than are required for their own pathway.”

WilmU’s teacher continuum ends with customizable master’s programs.

They offer 12 different areas of distinction. Teachers bundle two of those areas, which dictates the classes in their master’s programs.

Here are the 12 options: digital age teaching and learning, diversity and inclusion, e-learning design and technology, ESOL literacy, national board certification, reading specialist, STEM education, trauma and resilience, teaching and learning, special ed. teachers of students with disabilities, special ed. autism/severe intellectual disabilities, and special ed. early childhood/exceptional children.

A student could, for example, bundle “trauma and resilience” with “STEM education,’ or “diversion and inclusion” with “reading specialist,” or any of the other 66 possible bundle combinations. 

The WilmU programs helps students learn more about a career field, give those students a head start in college and helps them get a job and even a master’s faster than traditional programs, Trego said. 

That includes students who may want to be a school psychologist, counselor or an administrator, he said.

“It’s also intended to keep our students involved in the school district, through the contract incentives and subbing opportunities,” he said. “Holistically, we want to build a passion for public service.”


Jarek Rutz can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz and on LinkedIn.

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