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Education

Utah Launches ‘Grow Your Own’ Teacher Program Statewide

Photo of an empty classroom
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The Davis, Ogden and Salt Lake City school districts each have a “Grow Your Own” educator program, designed to help school staff and community members become licensed teachers.

Finding new teachers can be a major challenge for public schools in Utah. There is a limited pool of qualified candidates and about half of new teachers in the state tend to leave after only seven years.

Some districts have begun using an innovative approach to recruit teachers from their own communities, and a recently signed state bill would help expand it statewide.

At a ceremonial signing Monday, Gov. Spencer Cox gave his support to five major education bills passed this year, including the Grow Your Own Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program.

The bill allocates $9.2 million for a three-year pilot to study how impactful the program could be. Districts have to apply for the funding, which would help pay for scholarships and mentors for people like paraprofessionals and school counselor assistants who are on their way to becoming licensed teachers or counselors.

“One of the things that was really attractive is the retention rate for people that have gone through [similar] programs,” said Lisa McLachlan, alternative preparation and licensing specialist with the Utah State Board of Education. “And so the idea is that as we recruit people within our areas and help them prepare to be teachers and school counselors, we not only help recruit and diversify our workforce, but they also are more likely to stay in the profession.”

The model exists in various forms in at least three districts in Utah and many others around the country. It has proven successful particularly in schools that are traditionally hard to staff, such as those in rural or ethnically and economically diverse areas.

“We know that when families and schools are collaborating, when they see each other as assets and partners in education, the students do better,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director of University Neighborhood Partners, which helps run Salt Lake City’s program. “When you talk to people in schools, many of them say they’re having a hard time building those relationships.”

Kuttner said while many current school staff and community residents are well-suited to become teachers, they often face significant barriers to getting a license. Teaching aids or after-school coordinators in the program, for example, often don’t make much and have families of their own, leaving little time and resources to attend teacher preparation programs.

He said state funding could provide a major boost to help them advance.

Utah’s bill could also serve as a national model. McLachlan said she and her colleagues have already heard from education leaders in other states interested in the state’s new law.

“Usually those programs are started in the local school districts, but to up it to the state level is a little bit different,” she said. “So it's something that's new for everybody.”

She said she anticipates a lot of interest from districts, which need to apply by late May and could receive funding as early as July.

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