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Teacher Recruitment Will Suffer From USF College Of Education Changes, Officials Say

School District Officials Gather To Discuss Undergraduate Program Closing
Pinellas County Schools Facebook
Pinellas County School Board officials gather together during a in-person and virtual discussion about the recent closing of USF College of Education's undergraduate program.

A virtual discussion with school district officials looked at the possible effects of closing the USF College of Education undergraduate program.

Six public school superintendents from around the greater Tampa Bay region gathered to discuss the closing of the University of South Florida College of Education undergraduate program.

Over 230 participants, including principals, personnel directors, and USF leaders, including interim College of Education Dean Judith Ponticell, attended Friday’s community conversation — both in-person and virtually.

According to school district officials, over one quarter of the new teachers they hire are alumni of the USF undergraduate program. The closure raises concerns about the number of teachers in the Tampa Bay area.

“The phasing out of the College of Education undergraduate program will essentially send our area's most talented future teachers to other communities, away from our local school districts, and ultimately impact our children,” said Addison Davis, Superintendent for Hillsborough County Schools.

Davis further explained that this change could disrupt the connection between the university and area classrooms.

“It will significantly negatively impact the seamless pipelines that we have created, especially in Hillsborough County Public Schools, as USF is where new teachers develop, they thrive, and they positively impact student achievements,” he said.

“USF graduates are ready to provide intensive explicit systematic literacy instruction in diverse classroom settings in Hillsborough County.”

Local School Officials Discuss During Zoom Community Conversation
Local school officials hold a virtual meeting via Zoom to discuss the recent closing of USF College of Education's undergraduate program.

While USF officials plan to close the undergraduate program, the college’s master’s program will be still available.

However, local school officials argue that students may not take the step to further their education without an undergraduate program.

“I don't think that they would have had the understanding and the depth to [earn their master’s degree] had they not been teaching in the classroom first,” said Clearwater High School Principal Keith Mastorides.

Lea Mitchell, the Director of Leading and Learning for Pasco County Schools, said local students who aspire to be future teachers could possibly lose their passion.

“All of those students who are inspired and have the desire to teach will no longer have the opportunity to do that and give back to their very own communities,” she said.

Carol Cook, Chair of the Pinellas County School Board, said that students coming out of the undergraduate program play an important role for furthering the greater Tampa Bay region.

“The dynamic teachers that we receive from that school are the ones who are building the foundation, they are educating our children, they are creating lifelong learners,” she said.

“They are creating the students that learn to work collaboratively, and will eventually go into communities and build strong communities.”

According to Interim Dean Judith Ponticell, one of the reasons for the planned closure is that the number of undergraduate USF education students has fallen 63% over a span of 10 years.

But she wants the relationship between the university and the surrounding schools to live on.

“I don't want to see us not engaged in the preparation of high-quality, high-impact teachers,” she said. “We want to...continue to be your partners.”

And while local school officials hope USF will change its plan, some are willing to take a wait-and-see approach.

“[As of right now], we don't know the results of losing a program such as this. I hope that we find a way to continue it and move it forward,” said Mastorides.

Courtney Holland is the WUSF radio news intern for the fall of 2020.
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