UA Little Rock embarks on groundbreaking collaboration

October 16-22, 2023

By Angelita Faller


In a groundbreaking collaboration that promises to redefine the landscape of teacher education, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District have joined forces to introduce an innovative new teacher residency program.


“It is our belief that by providing students with paid residencies, the ability to learn with expert national partners, and the opportunity to collaborate with a local school district like the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, our teacher candidates are going to be prepared for the classroom like never before,” said UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina S. Drale. “This is a transformative program that will benefit our communities for decades to come.”


 The initiative provides teacher candidates with high-impact, paid residencies that will prepare these aspiring educators to be ready for their classrooms on their first day as a teacher.


“Resident teachers play a vital role in the public education system, providing not only academic instruction, but also serving as mentors and role models for scholars. Their presence in the classroom ensures a level of continuity and stability that is essential for creating a positive and supportive learning environment,” said Dr. Jeremy Owoh, superintendent of Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. “We are excited about this partnership with UA Little Rock and the opportunity to invest in the future of our scholars and school community.”


 The new residency program was announced Sept. 21 at Jacksonville Middle School. The first five UA Little Rock education students participating in the program include Chadwick Comer, Syrena Crotts, Laury Miller, Myah Steed, and Rachael Vickers. 


“My mentor teacher is Megan Russel, and I am teaching second grade at Murrell Taylor Elementary School,” said Syrena Crotts, a senior elementary education major from North Little Rock. “My experience thus far has been amazing. I have had full support from my mentor, and she has helped me take baby steps towards being a full classroom teacher. I’m really getting the chance to get to know the students and create that rapport with them as well. I am so grateful to be one of the first teacher candidates to be involved in this pilot program.”


Myah Steed, a senior elementary education major from Jacksonville, feels right at home working with teacher-mentor Wanda Eskridge at Murrell Taylor Elementary School.


“I have grown up around educators my whole life,” Steed said. “My mom has taught in the very school I am interning in right now for more than 40 years! Seeing how much she has impacted students over the years lit a spark in me. A few years ago. I got the chance to be an assistant in an after-school program. The teacher wasn’t able to continue so I got my big break at becoming a ‘teacher’ for the first time. Since then, I have been substituting within the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. I am very excited to be able to join this experience. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to help UA Little Rock and JNPSD carve a path for the next generation of teachers to come.”


With classrooms as their training ground and mentorship as their compass, aspiring educators are set to embark on a journey that will shape not only their own careers but the minds of countless students for generations to come.


“We cannot thank Dr. Owoh and the whole JNPSD team enough for supporting our teacher candidates in their learning, both through connecting them with expert mentor teachers, and also through funding their experience so they can actually afford to have the immersive experience that we know is best for teacher training,” said Dr. Sarah Beth Estes, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education at UA Little Rock.


Teacher candidates are normally not compensated while they complete their required internships in local schools, creating a barrier to graduation for students who have additional work, family, and financial obligations. 


“This program and the support from Jacksonville to fund student teaching is a significant first step in removing that barrier,” Drale said. “The need for quality teachers in our state and in our communities has never been greater. Much like the healthcare field, we have a number of good people doing really good work, but we don’t have nearly enough of them to go around. And when that happens, we run the risk of teacher burnout, poor retention, unmet learning outcomes, and unrealized potential in our most precious resource, our young people.”


Supported by a grant from Forward Arkansas, the residency model allows teacher candidates to spend a year working with experienced teacher mentors in the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. The grant is designed to aid UA Little Rock in increasing the number and diversity of teacher candidates entering the field. The university’s proven track record of providing affordable, quality education to students made it the perfect partner for this grant.   


“This program is a public commitment to the continuation of a very special partnership that is made possible through the generosity of Forward Arkansas,” Drale said. “The need for quality teachers in our state and in our community has never been greater. Here at UA Little Rock, we have embarked on a comprehensive program to recruit, train, and retain K-12 teachers in Arkansas. We are grateful to the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District and U.S. Prep for their strong support and collaboration on this program.”


Chadwick Comer, a senior middle childhood education major from North Little Rock, said that participating in the teacher residency program is helping him prepare for his future as a teacher. 


“The difference between a student observer with a cooperating teacher and a resident teacher with a mentor teacher is night and day,” Comer said. “During my student observations, I was unsure of myself in the classroom. I knew I was there to observe the teacher, assist when possible, and maybe lead a class or two. As a resident teacher, we teach alongside our mentors from day one. We participate in lesson planning instead of watching from the sidelines. We are sure of our place in the class because it is our class as much as it is our mentor teachers. We are just as responsible for the education, safety, and well being of the scholars as the rest of the staff. It is a year-long interview process that allows us to show our pedagogy firsthand and make those first-year mistakes with experienced teachers to guide us back on track.”


Comer will graduate in May 2024 and hopes to continue teaching in the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District because of everything he’s learning in the teacher residency program as well as the great atmosphere in the school district. 


“From the first day of professional development, the administration has shown that they value their staff as well as their scholars,” Comer said. “It is a community that I would be proud to continue to be a part of - a place where learning is required for the staff as well as the scholars.”


Photo Captions:


1. UA Little Rock education majors participating in a new teacher residency program between UA Little Rock and Jacksonville North Pulaski School District sign their letters of intent to teach in the school district. Photos by Ben Krain


2. Dr. Sarah Beth Estes discusses the new teacher residency program partnership between UA Little Rock and Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. Photo by Ben Krain


3. UA Little Rock education students are all smiles after being congratulated by their teacher. Photo by Ben Krain



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