Fort Zumwalt School District attempting to develop its own teachers

Sunday, February 12, 2012 | 4:40 p.m. CST; updated 5:09 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 12, 2012

O'FALLON — Robin Aston and Kelsie Kestler are about to graduate from Southeast Missouri State University but don't have to worry about finding a job. Both lined that up before going to college.

The women will have jobs waiting for them teaching special education in the Fort Zumwalt School District in St. Charles County. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the jobs are guaranteed through a "Grow Your Own Teacher" program.

"Without this program, I would have trouble seeking a job," said Aston, 22. "I would be confused about how to get to this point. I would not know what a school district was looking for."

The district began the program in 2005 in response to difficulty in recruiting teachers for some high-demand subjects. High school seniors apply and go through a screening process. Those selected receive $3,000 per semester for four years — $24,000 total. In return, they must spend their first four years after college teaching in the district. If they don't complete the four years in the district, they must pay back the $24,000. The district describes it as a forgivable loan program, not a scholarship.

Deputy Superintendent Patty Corum formed a committee in 2004 to study how the district could respond to the growing need for teachers certified in special education, foreign language, industrial technology and high school math and science. The committee based the Grow Your Own Teacher program on a similar system in Wichita, Kan.

The committee established a nonprofit education foundation that raises money through employee payroll deductions, private donations and fundraising. Corum said the foundation has $150,000 in hand, collecting about $55,000 annually.

The program has seven students enrolled in college this year. Aston and Kestler will be the first graduates.

Aston, a graduate of Fort Zumwalt South High School, kept in touch with a Fort Zumwalt teacher mentor and attended two teacher leadership training meetings each year. She said Corum and Superintendent Bernard DuBray often called her and met her for dinner or lunch.

Aston began student teaching full time at Fort Zumwalt North High School in January.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Emily Byers, a senior at Fort Zumwalt North, is just entering the program. She plans to begin classes this fall at Truman State, one of seven universities participating in the program. Byers plans to major in biology and chemistry so she can become a high school science teacher in the Fort Zumwalt district.

Byers, whose mother is a second-grade teacher in the district, said the $24,000 loan should pay her entire tuition. Scholarships from the university would pay for housing and books. So she would have a free ride, plus a job when she graduated.

"It's a dream come true for me," Byers said. "When they came to my class to tell me I was accepted, I was so excited, I started crying. I didn't know if I should walk or sit down. My friend held me up so I wouldn't fall. I was shaking so bad."

Byers called her mother to tell her the good news. "She started screaming," she said. "My dad found out later. He jumped up and down so much, he blew out a kitchen light bulb."

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Michael Williams February 12, 2012 | 9:13 p.m.

Many rural communities do the same thing for doctors.
I like this concept....communities deciding on what types/levels of teachers they want, and they go after them. The community has control over the entry qualifications and could set college goals that must be maintained.

Hmmmmm, where are the downsides? (honest question, looking for discussion)

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 12, 2012 | 9:26 p.m.

"Hmmmmm, where are the downsides?" No unions?

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle February 12, 2012 | 10:05 p.m.

That these people get "a free ride" on taxpayer's money? That's not a problem for me, of course, I think this is a good idea, too.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 12, 2012 | 11:25 p.m.

Re: Free rides at taxpayer expense.

The best get scholarships at taxpayer expense anyway. Communities/districts can tax themselves and supplement current state scholarship money. Lots and lots of competition for the best entry students between communities...heck, across state lines. Even abroad??? Poorer candidates are weeded out early, which creates demand at the district level. Higher salaries for those who are successful. Communities have to get with the program, else be left out with poorer teachers. This is exactly what I have been advocating.........

Teachers might have to give up a few things, tho, based upon the community (not state, county, or federal) practices. Unions, tenure, and the like. But, the community/district is the "determiner" and the teacher is the much sought-after bargainer. If the community wants to give good bennies, so be it....but the state and feds are not allowed input.

I really like this concept. So far, win/win.

There's gotta be a downside I'm missing.

(PS: First I heard of this kind of concept was my father in law was a tool/die shop owner in KCMO. He had lots of trouble finding good tool/die trainees. Soooo, he started a training program at a local community college and got lots of first choices among graduates. The entire community benefited. I don't know if he provided scholarships, but it wouldn't surprised me if he did.)

(Report Comment)

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