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In Franklin, Plymouth State partnership latest tool to address teacher shortage


Long after the school day ends, class is still in session on Thursday nights in Franklin Middle School as teachers trade their lesson plans for a seat in a graduate course led by Plymouth State University.

Last spring, a pilot version of the partnership gave teachers new practices to bring back to their classrooms.

The class title: “Try this on Monday.”

The essence of the course was to introduce teachers to new techniques, said Kenneth Logan, who is an assistant professor and English education coordinator at Plymouth State. But rather than inundating teachers with complex theories, Logan wanted to hit one thing teachers could do in their classroom tomorrow.

“Here’s something very practical, very straightforward that you can implement,” said Logan.

Now in a formal partnership with the Holmes Center for School Partnerships and Educator Preparation at Plymouth State, more than 20 teachers in Franklin are participating in a weekly graduate course on-site at the middle school. With the ability to earn these graduate credits free of charge, it is the latest solution to address a teacher shortage that plagues the industry.

“The idea was to try and pay for teachers to take a Masters class, try and help retain teachers here and build their skill sets,” said Dan LeGallo, the superintendent for the Franklin School District.

Last year, the district which includes Franklin’s elementary, middle and high school lost almost a quarter of its staff. Most educators went on to find higher-paying jobs in different districts, said LeGallo.

The story of Franklin’s retention issues holds weight statewide. So much so, that there is a legislative committee to study the state’s teacher shortage. On Nov. 1, committee members will issue a report that outlines challenges for teachers and recruitment and retention recommendations.

Considered in this report is a survey from Reaching Higher, an education policy nonprofit in the state.

In the spring of last year, Reaching Higher surveyed 590 teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators about their feelings about the education industry.

Among responses from teachers, 28 percent pointed to salary as a top concern.

LeGallo is well aware that Franklin’s wages aren’t competitive to areas with larger tax bases. The average teacher salary in the state is just over $62,000, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. In Franklin, the average pay sits at $49,000.

An advanced degree will inherently boost teacher pay, said LeGallo. And with the support from Plymouth State, teachers will deliver better classroom results for their students.

“It’s a win-win-win all the way around,” he said.

The investment from Plymouth State will also come full circle, said Brian Walker, the director of the Holmes Center.

“I see Plymouth being a hub for supporting our K through 12 schools,” said Walker. “We’re invested in this community in many ways. That’s our future students.”

This semester, the course is called “The Science of Teaching and Learning,” which studies the connection between developmental psychology and cognitive science to school classrooms.

The purpose of the course is to identify small changes that teachers can make in their classrooms that will inherently chip away at a bigger problem.

“Oftentimes, we think of problems as being so massive that we will have to change systems beyond schools to fix them,” said Logan. “But there are also things like small tweaks that add big results. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the grad course.”

Take students’ attention for example. In a 90-minute course, teachers often worry about planning each section to keep their classroom engaged throughout the lesson.

But if a teacher hones in on what their plan is for the first five minutes of class, oftentimes that small sliver will dictate how the rest of the session is going to go.

“The first five minutes it turns out are really important. Students walk in the door. The first five minutes, what do you do to make sure that you’re the one driving?” he said.

In addition to the weekly graduate course, Plymouth State professors are also providing support to teachers to improve math and literacy rates, two areas that are identified as historically low in the district.

Last year, Franklin Middle School was identified as one of 23 Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools in the state, which means it falls in the lowest 5 percent of school performance.

With this indicator, the district now has access to increased funding to help improve student outcomes. Part of these funds are now invested in this Franklin-Plymouth State partnership.

On a recent Thursday, students from Plymouth State served as substitute teachers in Franklin Middle School math classes. Over in the library, Joey Rino, an associate professor at Plymouth, had pulled all middle school math teachers into a professional development workshop.

The goal of the session was to facilitate a conversation about how a new math curriculum, Eureka, which was introduced in the district, translates across grades.

It’s one of several sessions Rino has led this semester. And each can take on its own shape or purpose.

Earlier in the year he took the helm of a middle school math class, leading a lesson with the new curriculum for teachers to observe. After that, the roles reversed, with Rino watching and providing feedback on their instruction.

“It’s less about me being the one to teach them something, but rather me providing a support that allows them to utilize their resources differently,” said Rino.

The hope also is that with this classroom experience in Franklin schools, Plymouth State students would be enticed to join the district staff after graduation.

“The district is showing a commitment to teaching and learning in a comprehensive way. Retaining teachers and supporting teachers is the number one factor for outcomes,” said LeGallo. “High-quality teachers improve students, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish for our kids.”