SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Fall 2003)
It's an interesting and exciting time for education," Prent Klag, associate professor of teacher education, and director of the Office of Graduate Studies and Field Services, says. Because, at SUU especially--an institution founded 105 years ago on a teacher education agenda--the method of preparing professional educators is on the verge of a zenith. "SUU has a very unique Graduate Studies program, "Klag states. "We are competitive with any teacher education program in the country. There are resources and opportunities here that both faculty and students should appreciate."
After three years of preparation and assessment, the University is in the final phase of the accreditation process by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the most prestigious of all teacher accreditation agencies. Despite its grueling requirements, it has actually been a positive and productive exercise for the College. "NCATE has inspired us to identify our strengths and areas that need improvement. The accreditation process helps us clarify how to hire and retain the best faculty, how to create meaningful curricula, and how to facilitate a strategic, long-term plan for our entire program."
Last April the SUU Professional Education Unit was approved for the graduate phase of accreditation after a last on-site briefing by the NCATE Board of Examiners. SUU has met requisite council standards and will know mid-summer 2003, the definitive outcome of its accreditation status.
"If the assessment results determined by NCATE in the last three years of this process are an indicator," Klag says, "then we are hopeful and excited about the forthcoming final decision."
" NCATE accreditation is the authoritative achievement ranking of a higher education professional education unit," Dean O'Driscoll, SUU's director of marketing and public relations, states. "It is the top of the upper echelon."
That being the case, one might ask, "Where can we go from here if we have reached the ceiling in the industry?" The answer is clear; there are no boundaries...now, we go everywhere. "Graduate education," Klag singles out, "is needed, and SUU is the place to get it."
The Master's program is adjusting successfully to the rapidly-changing market. "It is our mission to develop dynamic teachers who constantly search for truth, excellence and knowledge through effective practice, collaboration and scholarship," Klag states. "And at the same time, we must, and do change and adapt to the industry's needs, and expand the options to make our graduates marketable for jobs."
The new Office of Graduate Studies and Field Services in the College of Education is comprised of three main components: the Master of Education program; the Graduate Educator Licensure Program (GELP); and the Professional Outreach & In-service program.
The Master's program is steadily growing with an average of 70 master graduates each year. SUU is the second largest producer of teachers in the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). SUU graduate students can earn a Master of Education degree with an emphasis in one of the following areas: administration/supervision; English as a Second Language (ESL); math; gifted & talented; reading; or information & technology. To accommodate more student lifestyles, and also the rural nature of the region, the program is offered through outreach centers, as well. To assist in obtaining a broader education in a timely and thus more economical manner, dual admission options are available in many classes. In this scenario, undergraduate and graduate students can take classes together in which the graduate students' syllabus is enhanced and intensified.
SUU's Master of Education program is tailored to focus on re-tooling and in-service, or practicing teachers. Klag declares a more philosophical, but sincere way of approaching his department's objective. "We are making students aware of learners' needs and changing conditions. We are preparing high quality teachers. We are preparing educational leaders for a variety of positions in school districts, educational agencies, businesses and consultancies."
SUU President Steve Bennion says, "Our Teacher Education program, especially the Master's curriculum, distinguishes SUU. Teaching is our foremost legacy. Moreover, meaningful focused ways of teaching--in other words, what we can do to make our students the best practitioners--are what makes our graduates especially skilled forces in the educational industry."
As a result of President Bush's recent "No Child Left Behind" legislation - a response to national teacher and administrative shortages--many individuals are choosing to upgrade their skills by pursuing degrees in education or obtaining educator licensure. The Graduate Educator Licensure Program (GELP) at SUU meets these specific needs of the market.
An illustration of the purpose of GELP would be someone who was an undergraduate history major, but now wants to teach, would have to take a host of courses to receive his secondary education endorsement. Or, a professional accountant who is qualified by experience to teach business could complete the GELP program to receive not a degree, but licensure to teach.
GELP extends licensure in the areas of elementary education, secondary education, special education, ESL, reading specialist, library/media, and administrative supervisory. While GELP is not a master's program by itself, its courses can be used as elective credits toward an SUU Master of Education degree. GELP, Klag says, not only strengthens what SUU can offer to future teachers, but also the conditions of education nationwide. One can obtain Graduate Educator Licensure within just a year to 18-months, helping alleviate teacher shortages and meet school district needs.
The third component of the Graduate Studies program at SUU is the Professional Outreach & In-service program which facilitates in-service and professional development training for teachers already licensed who need to keep their skills current through continuing education. An example of this is the Southern Utah History Partnership (SUHP) between SUU and 13 school districts in southern Utah.
A $700,000 in-service teaching grant from the U.S. Department of Education has helped raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge and appreciation of American History. Thirty American History teachers (at least two from each school district) have spent time on the SUU campus to reflect on their teaching, to improve their content knowledge, and to work toward board certification during this comprehensive and prestigious three-year program. Ongoing consultation will continue through "peer coaching" via visits to the high schools by the SUU faculty, and electronic communication. SUU has assisted about 8,000 teachers through the in-service program in the last year.
A future key to promoting Outreach & In-service is the concept of a Professional Development School (PDS). (See Sidebar Story: "The Campaign For A New Teacher Education Building: Understanding the Power of Learning Within New Walls.") This is a visionary goal of SUU's College of Education. It is a vision, however, within the walls of a hoped-for, new teacher education building. A PDS, Klag identifies, is a unique program in which theory and practice merge. "PDS is 'Learning Lives Forever', exemplified," Klag states.
A PDS would bring actual K-5 students and teachers from the area into a physical space that fuses real-world theory and practice for teacher education students, on campus. "For example," Klag illustrates, "a PDS within our program would be the equivalent of a university hospital in an institution's medical college." A "Model for Reflective Teaching," the PDS concept emphasizes a process of continuous improvement of professional practice through reflecting on teaching performance and using the results of reflection to improve teaching and learning. Klag exclaims, "I have seen the value of Professional Development Schools manifested across the nation; they create success and synergy!"
"Teaching teachers is our niche here at SUU," Klag declares. "It is something we do well and are constantly striving to do better, and I believe this is largely due to our philosophy that a teacher is a specialized expert and should be trained that way." Comparatively speaking, he concludes, "SUU's Teacher Education and Graduate Studies programs are very healthy, positive, and on the move to bigger and better things."
Understanding the power of learning within new walls
The campaign for a new teacher education building
With a pending positive decision from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the most prestigious of all teacher accreditation agencies, the status of SUU's College of Education is on the verge of reaching the pinnacle ranking in higher education's professional education industry. Because of this fact, among several others, a campaign for a new Teacher Education Building on the SUU campus has been in full throttle for several years now. It is time for this Teacher Education program to operate out of a facility equal to its superlative quality.
Much of the Teacher Education program is housed in the Old Main Building, the first structure of the campus from its beginning 105 years ago. However, faculty and staff are scattered in other facilities across campus. After all, it is teacher education upon which the institution was founded. But as Prent Klag, associate professor of teacher education and director of the Office of Graduate Studies and Field Services, insightfully illustrates as to the need for a new building, "We are ready to go with most all of the parts for a prime, winning race car, but still, we have a 1957 Buick that wants to compete in the Indy 500. Technologically, alone, Old Main is not there and cannot be, understandably. A new building, as we visualize it, would do all that we say we are, and allow us to be truly competitive."
As of last year, the SUU Teacher Education Building was #7 on the state's Building Board list. The original version of the building design was priced last year at $15.3 million. Since the state legislature adjourned from its 2003 session, and up to its convening for the 2004 session, key individuals like SUU President Steve Bennion, Dorian Page, SUU's associate vice president and treasurer and Dr. Gregory Stauffer, SUU's vice president of administrative and financial services; continue to spend untold hours and efforts meeting with agencies and lawmakers, in hopes of moving the University's new Teacher Education Building up on the Building Board's list, as well as the lists of the Board of Regents and the legislature.
Klag states, "For all of those who support and facilitate it as a reality, the proposal and follow-through for a new facility is a statement of commitment and critical need."
President Bennion adds, "The new Teacher Education Building will give SUU a modern, technologically current facility to match its wonderful students and more than a century of commitment to this noble profession. Three of ten new teachers produced in the Utah System of Higher Education come from SUU."