NCTR is excited to partner with the second cohort of aspiring residencies supported through our U.S. Department of Education Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant. Our New Site Development Program (NSDP) team is working with four residency programs in this cohort: Nashville Teacher Residency, McCormick County Teacher Residency (South Carolina), Metro Nashville Urban Teacher Residency, and the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency (New Orleans). Cohort 2017 received funding to launch and grow their programs through NCTR’s two-year NSDP consulting curriculum, which will establish the core components of the residency model. Our goal is to share the drivers, influences and goals of a residency program early in its start-up phase.

This is the third installment of a four part profile series on each of our four new SEED partners. We interviewed Don Doggett, the Superintendent of McCormick County School District.

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How did you find out about NCTR’s SEED grant? What inspired you to apply to become a SEED grant partner?

I found out about NCTR through my past work with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) through the Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC). We focused on building the capacity of state education agencies to assist schools and school districts. During my time with AIR, I partnered with South Carolina’s Department of Education. We discussed the possibility of hosting a summit of sorts for institutes of higher education (IHEs). For years the Department talked about their interest in linking teacher success back to IHEs. One of my contacts at the Department oversaw the management of the state’s CAEP standards, and worked closely with the state’s teacher prep programs. She was able to survey the Deans of IHE teacher preparation programs to try and understand what they felt they needed more development and support on in terms of connecting the work of prep programs directly to teacher on-the-job effectiveness. Our goal was to incorporate the Deans’ feedback into a two-day institute for IHEs and teachers. We wanted to recruit NCTR to serve as advisors to help realize this goal of connecting in-service effectiveness back to preparation. Unfortunately, the institute never happened, but South Carolina remained in contact with NCTR.

When I was named Superintendent of McCormick County School District, a former contact at the South Carolina Department of Education sent me your SEED grant information. I knew a partnership with NCTR would encourage the IHEs near us to begin thinking through how they could help rural school districts find and retain high quality teachers. Student teachers are rare in rural communities – we haven’t had one in years. Creating a program that helps our district grow a steady pipeline of new teachers that will stay in the district is very important.

What are you excited about building upon in your district?

I’m most excited that our community – from our staff to our local business leaders – has embraced the change and transition toward clinical preparation. There is a lot of talk from all sides of the community about ways to attract teaching talent into McCormick. If we are lucky, we will recruit teacher candidates from within the community. We are looking at how to begin our own Grow Your Own program. We are still very early in planning the work, but the consensus is excitement over the future — having young people coming home from school saying, “I’m learning new things, I’m being exposed to different things, and I have two teachers in my classroom!” Once student achievement increases, I believe the community will see how they play their part in supporting excellent teacher preparation.

What challenges do you face in your work and/or community, and how do you predict your partnership with NCTR through SEED will support your work?

The most obvious challenge as it stands is that there is presently no pipeline for teachers in the community. You never hear about the wins in rural communities so it is hard for districts like McCormick County Schools to recruit high quality teachers. But, we also need to give potential residents that wouldn’t ordinarily look to rural teaching something to get excited about – an incentive to seriously consider working and living in McCormick County. We are trying to highlight the charm of living in McCormick. If you go 145 miles in one direction you are in Atlanta, 80 miles in another and you’re Columbia, South Carolina and 45 miles you are in Augusta – home of the annual and renowned Masters Golf Tournament. These are all attractive things that we can sell to teachers interested in rural living but also looking for access to cultural and recreation hubs. Of course, we also want to create more social and lifestyle opportunities with the county, itself, that will attract more young adults. We need economic development in the town, so we’re teaming up with the County Council and the Mayor’s Office and the McCormick Arts Council to support business and cultural growth.

That is one of the biggest reasons I began talks with the business community. There is a housing development here, formerly a retirement community, which is now open to residents of all ages. They are interested in ensuring residents have a good school district in the community. The community wants to attract new residents with school-aged children, so they are doing research on how to provide residents with housing at a reduced rate. Excitingly, McCormick County School District owns about 10 extra acres that lead to a residential area and a major road. Our long-term goal to sustainability is to build a couple of townhomes on the property and allow our residents to live there for a deeply discounted cost. Ideally, we would love to have 15-25 teachers living in the district.

We are hoping to use SEED grant funds to research and develop a plan that will attract residents – including stipends, professional development for residents and mentors, and Department of Education, General Assembly and IHE partnership support. With other fundraising efforts, we’d like to build a sustainable financial plan around the cost of hosting residents, helping them pay for housing, and nurturing the quality of life in the community. We want to make sure McCormick County can manage costs, and that we can help set all our partners up for success in terms of forecasting budgets two to three years down the road.

What attracted you/your district to the residency model?

I keep remembering a particular analogy when I think about the launch of the residency model in McCormick County. When you are working with a mechanic, there is an opportunity to fix the car completely using a differentiated approach or mask the problem with a temporary fix. In this case, we want to redefine the residency model to fit the context of not only South Carolina and its unique politics, but that of rural communities. Ultimately, we would like to scale the model within other rural communities within the state to help get high quality teachers in all rural communities. I can get 25 teachers here, but if I’m not also thinking about their quality of life in this community they won’t stay.

In this area of the state we can radically change student achievement by making sure we are changing the way we are working with teacher candidates. And at the end of the day, people will know that McCormick County has an incredible training program for quality teachers; McCormick isn’t just a rural community, but one that is thinking thoughtfully about teacher preparation and encouraging student achievement.

What partners do you have in your community that will support you as you work toward accomplishing your residency goals?

We have commitments from both Lander University and the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, who will serve as higher education partners. When we were exploring partnership options, we looked at IHE teacher preparation programs around the state and contacted the a few Deans to see what levers they would need to pull policy-wise to help launch the model in McCormick County. We then looked at geography and asked ourselves which IHE partners were close enough to allow teachers to drive in during the day and/or stay in McCormick County housing at low or no cost. The Dean of Lander University agreed to host a meeting to hear the vision and mission of our residency program, and understand what a residency model could do for both South Carolina and McCormick County.

Of course, there was some resistance to the model – some existing teacher preparation programs did not have “warm fuzzies” over changes to their model. We have been met with a bit of skepticism because of misunderstandings about the residency model – but I know what I’m pitching is unconventional and untested in the state to date. I believe we will create a launching pad that will introduce the model in more and more districts across the state.

What are the 2-3 things you hope to accomplish in Year One of our SEED grant partnership?

In Year One, we want to change the mindset in the state of how we view pre-service teachers. Too often we expect teachers to come straight out of the oven and bring their A game to classrooms. But so many teachers trained in traditional environments have no experience with classroom management, and no experience with pedagogy. Those teachers are likely to leave the profession or head to other districts that will invest in their growth and will support them. We want to make sure each resident candidate in McCormick County is supported and encouraged to grow. We want them to stay in the community and in the district.

We want to develop a model that is research backed and effective in a rural area. We hope to do this by developing a pipeline of IHE partners and engaging them in conversations about their programs and offerings. Ultimately, we want to help our partners think through their support of pre-service teachers and present the residency model as a critical method for preparing excellent teachers that are committed to rural districts for the long haul.