Rossier and LAUSD partner up to make change

The driving force behind the program comes from the need to increase both men of color in teaching positions and women in STEM fields and increase representation within schools in predominantly Black communities. (Charles McCollum | Daily Trojan)

In February, the USC Rossier School of Education announced a teaching residency program in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District to increase diversity in teaching and retain teachers with a better understanding of their communities.

Margo Pensavalle, a professor at Rossier and head of the team organizing the residency initiative, said the program is one of three of Dean Pedro Noguera’s initiatives; the other two initiatives address the emotional needs of students and work to improve civic engagement. 

She said the residency also serves to increase representation in Rossier’s Master of Arts, teaching program, specifically bringing in individuals who have experience with USC’s surrounding area so as to train teachers with closer connections to the schools they will be working with.

Student teachers spend one full year in the classroom, both working with and shadowing a master teacher, while studying at Rossier in the traditional master’s program. The student teachers chosen for this residency receive a scholarship and living stipend equivalent to the cost of the program’s tuition, which allows them to further immerse themselves in their intended teaching communities. The program also provides opportunities for creating qualified and prepared teachers to address the needs of students, especially in South Central and the area surrounding USC’s campus.

“We started partnering with our friends in the superintendent’s office, specifically around trying to create a residency program that would not only address the need for really qualified teachers for our schools, but also address the needs of increasing the diversity of our teacher workforce,” said Bryan Johnson, the director of workforce management in LAUSD’s Human Resources division. 

Though the program is still in the interview stage, the driving force behind the program and what it aims to achieve comes from the need for men of color in teaching positions, as well as women in STEM fields — with an emphasis on representation within schools in predominantly Black communities.

“We know that it really makes a difference when students have teachers of color, and especially male teachers of color,” Pensavalle said. “We’re looking for [student teachers] who want to go in to become education specialists, because we know that there is [a] real teacher shortage in all of these areas. We’re looking to enhance the position, so we can start a sustainable kind of pipeline to increase the number of teachers from these different areas to come into teaching.”

Barriers to entry are more common in the teaching profession because of financial disparities — but through the scholarship and living stipend provided by the program, student teachers are able to better integrate into the school and receive the traditional Rossier education, with the added guarantee of a career with LAUSD after completion.

“It’s a huge recruitment strategy, but it’s also a retention strategy,” said Ileana Davalos, the deputy chief human resources officer at LAUSD. “We want to make sure that we have teachers that are committed to staying there and the best way to do that is knowing that you’re going to work at these schools.”

Studies by the Learning Policy Institute have shown that teacher residencies improve retention rates, as well as increase diversity, and are considered critically important, especially in California with the diversity of it’s communities. The LAUSD representatives further emphasized the need for commitment from incoming teachers, and this residency allows student teachers to build a stronger foundation so they’re able to take on traditional challenges from day one.

“We’re gonna really be mindful about intentional matchings between the mentor and the mentee to really increase the likelihood that they stay with the district long term, and have long, you know careers in the district and students see the benefits of that,” said Jared DuPree, a senior director in the LAUSD.

One of the biggest factors in the program’s implementation was the contributions USC made, as well as the flexibility Rossier presented in program creation, Johnson said. Access to scholarships and stipends allows student teachers more flexibility, despite not being employed by the district.

In addition, most grant funded programs are restricted by subject, usually mathematics, science, special education and bilingual education, according to Johnson. The local funding provided by USC allows for the residency program to be extended to students in less commonly sought specialties.

Giving student teachers the opportunity to commit to a year in the residency program provides an opportunity for broader understanding of how to “enact that pedagogy in the classroom,” Johnson said. “If people are able to commit to that full year, I think they’ll reap the benefits for years to come because there’s really no training like a residency program.”

A previous version of this article stated that teachers chosen for the residency receive a full scholarship and living stipend. Teachers chosen for the residency actually receive a scholarship and living stipend equivalent to the cost of the program’s tuition. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.