The retention of high-quality teachers in poor, urban school districts remains a nationwide challenge and one of the biggest threats to the vitality of urban schools. While several programs and nonprofits aim to fill this gap in the education system, few have established a sustainable model that adequately prepares inexperienced teachers for the cultures, views, and experiences of urban students.
In partnership with Broward Community College and three local universities, Broward County Public Schools developed the Urban Academies Program, a fresh approach to filling the growing teacher shortages in their community. Rather than bring teachers in from the outside, Broward County decided to tap the teaching talent within its own community. By identifying current high school students who possess strong teaching potential, the Urban Academy model fosters a sense of community while providing career guidance for youth who might otherwise be left without clear direction.
Beginning in 9th grade, select Broward County students are prepared for future teaching careers within their own urban communities. This preparation includes a rigorous four-year curriculum, earned college credits, and early field experiences in urban classrooms leading to fully paid college tuition at one of the four participating colleges and a guaranteed teaching position within Broward County. Since many of these students are the first in their family to attend college, the added guidance provided by the Urban Academies program proves to be invaluable.
In addition to working with Broward County high school students, the Urban Academies program reaches out to undergraduate education majors at local participating colleges. These aspiring teachers are able to put classroom theory into practice by working at one of the fifteen Urban Academies Professional Development Schools, which include elementary, middle, and high schools. Due to the bonding that occurs during these student-teaching experiences in Broward County, many of these student-teachers decide to remain as full-time teachers within the Urban Academy Schools, rather than moving on to wealthier school districts.
Current Broward County school district teachers also receive continuing professional development. They become mentors to guide, advise, coach, and assist in modeling effective teaching strategies to current Urban Academy education students. This mentoring component creates a sense of camaraderie among all teachers in Broward County, making the county schools a desirable place to work. Current teachers are also encouraged to reflect on their own teaching styles, which inevitably leads to continuous improvements.
This comprehensive approach to teacher retention has led to profound changes in both quality of education within Broward County as well as students' attitudes towards pursuing higher education and establishing career goals. Due to increased teacher involvement and student enthusiasm, four of the poorest performing schools in the county improved their state-assigned grades from three D's and one F in 1999 to one A, one B and two C's in 2005. Perhaps most impressively, teacher retention for the 15 participating Broward County schools was 93% in 2004-2005, compared to 84% in the rest of Broward County and 67% nationwide. Broward County's Urban Academy model has shown that the real answer to the retaining high-quality teachers is to create a community that values both the current teachers as well as the potential that current students possess to educate future generations.