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Quality teachers the focus of statewide conference in Springfield

Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It’s a central premise of the “No Child Left Behind” Act and proven in numerous studies: Quality teachers influence student learning perhaps more than any other factor. Yet up to half of new teachers, including many highly qualified teachers, leave the profession within their first five years.

Attracting, developing and keeping those quality teachers will be the focus of a statewide conference Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Hilton Springfield, 700 E. Adams St., attended by more than 170 Illinois educators and policymakers seeking to share ideas and develop plans for local schools.

The keynote speaker will be Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and national expert on teacher retention and teacher quality.

Others on the program include Randy Dunn, Illinois superintendent of education; Elliot Regenstein, director of education reform for the Illinois governor’s office, and Mary Clement, an education professor from Berry College who is an expert on developing programs for new teachers.

Actress Brooke Haycock, an artist-in-residence with the Education Trust, will present her one-woman show “Six Degrees of Preparation,” exploring the human dimension of policies and practices that either support or harm new teachers.

The conference, titled “Attracting and Retaining Quality Teachers,” is the first organized by the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative, which started last summer. The statewide initiative involves almost every group with an interest in Illinois education, including business, higher education, school administrators, teachers’ unions and the state board of education.

“The conference was put together to aid teams of teachers and administrators who are looking to either design a program for new teachers or improve the one they’ve got,” says Renee Clift, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an organizer of the collaborative and the conference.

“We’re trying to grow the state’s capacity for supporting new teachers,” Clift said. “We also want to promote the idea that supporting new teachers is everybody’s joint responsibility. It crosses institutional and district lines.”

Participating teams will be coming from almost 50 schools from throughout the state, including those in rural, urban and suburban districts. Also participating will be representatives from government, foundations, higher education and business.

The new teaching collaborative is committed to helping new teachers quickly improve their skills and to reducing the high rate at which they leave the profession, and the conference is a natural extension of that commitment, Clift said. Also, the Illinois State Board of Education has made mentoring and retention programs key parts of its strategic plan, and the Legislature is being asked to increase funding for the effort, she said.

The conference will open at 10 a.m. on Tuesday with speakers discussing the situation in Illinois, followed by Haycock’s performance at 11:15 a.m., Ingersoll at 1:15 p.m., and Clement at 3 p.m., with small-group discussions in between. Dunn and Regenstein will open the second day with a state-level policy overview at 8:15 a.m., followed by discussions through the morning and a lunch presentation that will close the conference.

The Partnership Board that directs the INTC includes representatives from the Chicago Civic Committee, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Business Roundtable, Illinois Center for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Principals Association, Illinois State Board of Education and its regional offices, public and private universities, two-year public colleges, and new teachers themselves.

The collaborative is funded with a $250,000 grant from the State Farm Companies Foundation, and additional funding from the university. Its work is coordinated with two related initiatives, one sponsored by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and the other sponsored by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

The INTC Web site includes a developing collection of links to information, resources and programs for new teachers, defined as those in their first four years of teaching. In the works, according to Clift, is a pilot “e-mentoring” program that would give new teachers the means to discuss their challenges and concerns online with National Board Certified teachers (certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards).

Other sections of the Web site provide helpful links for administrators, mentors, and support organizations and providers, and work is underway on a complete directory of all programs for new teachers in Illinois, as well as links to national and regional programs, Clift said.