Program is part of state's effort to address shortage of teachers

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FARMINGTON — For the second year in a row, San Juan College has received funding from the New Mexico Public Education Department for a program designed to attract aspiring teachers to districts with large populations of English language learners and Native American students.

State officials announced on July 26 that SJC would receive more than $150,000 for its Alpine II program to work with 16 schools in the Farmington Municipal School District, the Bloomfield School District, the Aztec Municipal School District and Central Consolidated Public Schools.

Teacher candidates who enter the program by committing to teach at one of the participating schools for three years will have the cost of their tuition, fees and books covered.

The candidates also receive a two-year alternative license in New Mexico that allows them to begin teaching while completing their coursework, during which time they receive full salary and benefits from their district. Additionally, they are paired with mentors and receive professional development — elements that are designed to ease their transition into a new profession.

The award follows on the heels of the college's receipt of a similar grant for approximately $178,000 last year from the PED for its inaugural Alpine program. Alexis Domme, director of the teacher education programs at San Juan College, said when her department responded to the PED's request for proposals this year, it modified the program in small but significant ways to take advantage of what it had learned from its first year of participation.

Domme said this program and others like it are part of the PED's effort to address the state's shortage of teachers. The Alpine programs target people with a bachelor's degree in some other field — perhaps business or social work, Domme said — and offer them a new start as teachers. The program allows them to pursue a new career without putting themselves or their families in a difficult financial position, she said.

One of the key factors that will make this second installment of the Alpine program different is its residency aspect, she noted. At each of the participating schools, program facilitators will pair the teacher candidates with a mentor and manager. Professional development forums are scheduled periodically, and the candidates are walked through the basics of classroom management. They also are provided with help in answering their site-based questions and any issues they may have in completing paperwork.

Domme said there is also a culturally responsive element to the program.

"We want to provide instruction that supports students and their families who might speak a different language than English first and who might benefit from the community element of school," she said.

The residency sites taking part in the Alpine II program are Apache Elementary School, McCormick Elementary School, Tibbetts Middle School and Farmington High School in the Farmington district; Naaba Ani Elementary School, Mesa Alta Junior High and Bloomfield High School in the Bloomfield district; Park Avenue Elementary School, Koogler Middle School and Aztec High School in the Aztec district; and Eva B. Stokely Elementary School, Ojo Amarillo Elementary School, Kirtland Middle School, Tse Bit Ai Middle School, Shiprock High School and Newcomb High School in the CCSD.

The inaugural Alpine program initially drew a lot of interest but ultimately attracted only five candidates, Domme said. That number was considerably smaller than the 22 slots that the program funded, and Domme said the school returned the leftover money to the PED. The five candidates who did commit to the program soon will enter their second year, she said.

The Alpine II program will offer 24 slots and will start this fall, while the inaugural program began in January. Domme believes having the teacher candidates around for a full school year will be more beneficial to the participating districts.

The proposal San Juan College officials submitted to the PED this year includes a provision for an external review of its program by a peer educator at the end of the year.

"We'll ask them to come in and do a full report so we have some clear direction in knowing whether to write (the grant) for a third iteration or scale it in another direction," she said.

Anyone interested in applying for the program should call 505-566-3044.

San Juan College was one of four colleges or universities in the state to receive grants from the PED for the teacher residency pilot program. Western New Mexico University, Central New Mexico Community College and Northern New Mexico College also received grants. A panel of education stakeholder chose the winners from 11 applications, according to a PED press release.

One higher education official who was disappointed that his institution did not receive funding for its teacher education program was Dine College President Charles "Monty" Roessel. Roessel offered his congratulations to San Juan College for its receipt of the grant and acknowledged that his school — which operates satellite campuses in Shiprock and Crownpoint, in addition to its main campus in Tsaile, Arizona — did not submit a grant proposal to the program because its status as a tribal college leads it to access state funding through a different mechanism.

"Where I had a problem was that no tribal college was awarded any of these grants," he said, explaining that the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit against the state of New Mexico that challenged the state's failure to provide a sufficient and uniform system of education to all children is what prompted New Mexico lawmakers to fund programs like the teacher residency pilot project.

"We weren't brought to the table," he said. "All we ask is to be brought to the table. If we don't measure up, that's fine, but we should have the chance to participate."

Roessel said his school offers a bachelor's program in teacher education and is obviously well positioned to provide teacher candidates with the exposure to Native culture that is a big part of the program.

"We are one of the leaders in the country," he said.

Roessel said he had discussions with New Mexico lawmakers in January about his institution receiving funding for its teacher education program, but those talks did not bear fruit. He expressed frustration that most of the state's funding for such programs seems to wind up with the University of New Mexico or New Mexico State University, far from many of its pueblos and reservations.

He said he raised the issue again on July 31 during a New Mexico Higher Education Department hearing in Crownpoint regarding capital outlay funds.

"I brought this up trying to expand teacher programs that have a culturally relevant bent," he said.

Roessel was more encouraged by the response he received in that setting and is hopeful his efforts will yield positive results soon.

"We just want to be part of the discussion and part of the solution," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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