Kelvin Gragg faces a problem shared by other school superintendents in southeast Arkansas – how to recruit and retain qualified teachers in an impoverished area of the state.

Gragg is superintendent of the Dumas School District, one of 15 districts in the southeast part of the state that will benefit from a recently executed agreement between the Arkansas Department of Education and the School of Education at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

In brief, the ADE has agreed to waive rules for public schools designated as high-minority or high-poverty that prohibit a clinical internship student from serving as a long-term substitute, and that prohibit a clinical intern who does not have a bachelor’s degree from serving as a long-term substitute teacher.

“The impact of the state’s decision to allow my district to use student-interns is critical to educating our students,” said Gragg. “In years past, our district, like many others in southeast Arkansas, has struggled to complete our staff. This agreement is a win for all involved. It provides superintendents of high-minority or high-poverty schools with an additional avenue for hiring qualified teachers. It also provides student interns with the ability to earn extra income during their student teaching. With the current teacher shortage in Arkansas, we must begin to think outside the box in addressing our needs.”

The Memorandum of Understanding between UAM and the ADE is called “Bridging the GAP Clinical Experience Initiative,” and opens the door for UAM education majors in their final semester of a supervised two-semester internship to serve as long-term substitute teachers in one of 15 school districts in southeast Arkansas designated by the ADE as high-minority or high-poverty under its Equitable Access to Excellent Educators Plan recently filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

The teacher candidates will be able to serve as long-term substitutes for high-need licensure areas and for licensure levels or content areas for which the district has been unable to successfully recruit a qualified licensed teacher. Each clinical intern II will have completed the Praxis Core and Praxis II Content Exams, all coursework, and 13 weeks in a clinical intern I experience prior to the clinical internshipII. All UAM clinical interns must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

“This will benefit our program, the university as a whole, but more importantly, will have a positive impact on the surrounding school districts,” said Dr. Peggy Doss, dean of the UAM School of Education. “I am aware of the challenges faced by area school superintendents in attracting qualified teachers and hopefully this agreement will provide some relief as well as provide employment opportunities for our students.”

The school districts eligible to participate are Cleveland County, Crossett, Dermott, DeWitt, Drew Central, Dumas, Hamburg, Hampton, Hermitage, Lake Village, McGehee, Monticello, StarCity, Warren, and Woodlawn. The Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative in Monticello will also participate.

Tammy Healey has served as a principal in the Dumas School District for 14 years, the last four at Dumas Elementary School. “The simple fact is we’re a low paying district and our first-year teachers don’t stay,” she said. “Having interns come in as long-term substitutes is ideal for us. Many of them are local, they have ties to the community, and they’re going to stay with us once they graduate.”

Ivy Pfeffer, assistant commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, said the ADE hopes that the agreement “will support one of our key strategies under the Equitable Access to Excellent Educators Plan – that of helping high-minority and high-poverty schools recruit and retain excellent teachers and leaders.” According to Pfeffer, research and reporting from the agreement will provide important data for the plan.

Clinical interns hired as long-term substitutes by one of the school districts listed in the agreement will be closely supervised and supported by their UAM faculty supervisors. Additional support to the public schools will be provided by the UAM School of Education Partnership Coordinator, the director of the UAM Education Renewal Zone, math and science specialists from the UAM STEM Center, literacy specialists and special education faculty from UAM’s School of Education.

The job performance of each long-term substitute will be reviewed by UAM, the public school and school district with reports provided to the ADE.