Six Years Later, ATC Revisits Strategic Direction

Greetings, and happy holidays!

As most of you already know, I transitioned into the position of executive director this summer after former ED Shelley Aschliman returned to the classroom. This semester has been a whirlwind for me personally as I’ve grown into the new role and gotten more familiar with human resources, budgeting, and all the other administrative tasks that always seemed like the “man behind the curtain” to me before. It has become clear to me now more than ever just how interconnected the administrative and teaching sides of this work really are. As a young organization, we’ve had to make sacrifices in the past to survive, but it’s now our time to thrive by setting a shared vision for the next five years that will effectively overcome the challenges we face. I’m very excited to read your feedback, and I know that with your input we can be even more intentional about creating a cohesive and consistent organization empowered to make an impact!

Brandon Lucius
Executive Director

ATC’s Story by the Data

ATC was created in 2013 by Dr. Gary Ritter and executive director Benton Brown as a partnership between the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions (COEHP), the Arkansas Department of Education, school districts, and funders (at the time, the Walton Family Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Arkansas Women’s Giving Circle, and individuals through the Arkansas Teacher Corps Society).

Housed within the Department of Education Reform, ATC was founded with the mission to recruit, train, and support  exceptional, social justice-oriented individuals to serve as teachers for Arkansas students who need them the most in order to achieve the vision that all Arkansas students will have the agency to pursue extraordinary lives through excellent, equitable education that empowers them intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically.

After receiving 136 applications (many of them expecting placements in Northwest Arkansas), 21 Fellows began teaching in 13 schools with the inaugural 2013 cohort. Since then, ATC has recruited, trained, and supported more than 125 teachers who have served over 10,000 students in 30 school districts throughout eastern and southern Arkansas. ATC teachers have taught 750-plus courses, led more than 100 clubs or teams, and written over 15 classroom grants. Moreover, eight ATC teachers have been named Teacher of the Year by their districts.

Today, there are 54 ATC Fellows teaching in 27 schools and 21 ATC alumni teaching in another 17 schools.

Despite that growth, the small cohorts of 25-30 Fellows are only a drop in the bucket in terms of meeting the need, and many classrooms still go unfilled or staffed by a long-term sub. Though ATC receives over 150 applications every year from potential Fellows, Arkansas schools continue to request ATC Fellows to fill more than 250 open teaching positions — even if ATC were able to accept every applicant, it wouldn’t be enough! 

Research conducted by the Office for Education Policy found that while schools in Northwest Arkansas receive an average of 10 applications for every open teaching position, ATC partner schools receive only 2 applications per vacancy on average (including the ATC Fellows submitted for consideration)!

Although our current efforts haven’t been able to fully meet the needs of our partner schools, our smaller cohorts have allowed for more rigorous training and personalized support; we’ve been working under the motto “quality over quantity”. As ATC staff, we continually interrogate our own methods to ensure that Fellows are meeting expectations and realizing measurable student growth.

Every year, ATC partners with education professors from universities across the state to conduct an external evaluation of Fellows compared to traditionally trained teachers in the schools where they work. These evaluations involve classroom observations of ATC Fellows and comparable non-ATC colleagues, in addition to student surveys for both sets of teachers and analysis of student performance on the ACT Aspire exam. 

The results have been positive and consistent: ATC Fellows perform as effective or better than their peers with regards to classroom environment and instruction and are overall less likely to be rated as unsatisfactory. Furthermore, though students of ATC Fellows in all tested subjects have been found to perform on par with their peers taught by non-ATC teachers and realize similar levels of growth, students rate their ATC teachers significantly higher than non-ATC teachers in the areas of content knowledge, relationships in class, and relationships outside of class. 

(Access the full 2017-18 External Evaluation report here.)

Although alternative-certification programs like the Arkansas Teacher Corps are by no means a panacea to the teacher quality challenges facing educational leaders across the state, ATC places highly educated, driven, and passionate teachers in districts where they are desperately needed. But ATC teachers do more than fill empty classrooms; programs like ATC provide an opportunity for a diverse group of committed and energetic leaders to serve traditionally underserved students.

In fact, the diversity of ATC’s teachers is one hallmark of the program. While teachers of color account for only 1 of 10 teachers across the state and only 3 of 10 teachers in ATC partner schools, around 40% of ATC Fellows are people of color.

Of the 23 teachers in the 2018 cohort, 43% are people of color, 61% are first-generation college students, and 65% come from low-income communities themselves. Additionally, 22% are “hometown applicants” who were already living and working in the communities where they now teach. Overall, ATC Fellows often perform in the top quartile of standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, or GRE, and a third of all Fellows hold graduate degrees.

While diverse recruitment and rigorous training are strengths of the program, Fellow retention continues to be a challenge. On average, only 64% of Fellows return for their second year, and only 55% of Fellows finish the three-year fellowship. In light of research that suggests that teachers who leave mid-year have a more detrimental effect on students than teachers who leave at the end of the year, it is at least encouraging that 89% of all Fellows on average complete each school year. The graph below shows the retention of Fellows by cohort with the percentage of Fellows active in the program at the beginning (BOY) and end (EOY) of each year they are in the fellowship.

Part of ATC’s mission is to recruit teachers for schools that often struggle to fill open teaching positions. The three-year commitment ensures that Fellows have time to become effective teachers for the students they teach while putting down roots in the school and community that can lead to long-term success. Even if Fellows choose to leave their placement school after the fellowship, the three years of professional development and classroom coaching effectively support Fellows in building the skills they need to thrive on their own.

Of those Fellows who successfully completed the fellowship, over 70% were still working in Arkansas public schools one-year later and 58% are still teaching in Arkansas schools today. Many Fellows also go on to pursue graduate degrees in education, principal licensure, and National Board certification.

Every ATC Fellow has a unique story to tell, and no two Fellows’ journeys are the same. Coming from diverse backgrounds with many varied experiences, all ATC Fellows share a commitment to Arkansas, a passion for their content, and an unwavering belief in their students’ potential. 

It is for these very reasons that your perspective is so needed. As a current or former Fellow, you have unique insight into the Fellow experience, the program’s operations, and our school partners.

The Strategic Planning Process

Overall, the planning process must balance urgency (having a plan in place before the new school year) with representation (ensuring there is input from a variety of diverse stakeholders). In an ideal world, this process could take up to a year to allow for rich, authentic discussions at multiple levels and the organic evolution of ideas through conversation and exploration. In reality, potential funders want to see a final details ASAP and staff will need more direction before engaging with new school partners for the 2019-20 school year.

Our goal is to minimize the length of the process while maximizing the number of opportunities for input and feedback. In the end, we hope this leads to a shared vision with measurable goals that can truly drive the organization’s work day-to-day. We aim to complete the bulk of the strategic planning process by May 2019.

December 2018/January 2019
Conduct an organizational needs assessment to determine current strengths and opportunities for improvement: survey Fellows and alumni for feedback on the program’s big picture, recruitment and retention, and professional development program; interview school and district administrators, educational cooperative partners, community members, University partners, and funders for feedback on the program’s outreach, partnerships, and community needs.

February 2019
Present a draft outline for review and comment by ATC Fellows and the ATC Advisory Board at the All Corps PD on Saturday, February 9. The draft will address projected growth, budget and fundraising, recruitment, branding and marketing, and organizational capacity. ATC staff will revise the draft based on the feedback received.

March 2019
Prepare a full draft plan to share with ATC Fellows, alumni, and stakeholders for review and comment via survey. ATC staff will facilitate conference calls with Fellows to discuss the draft, answer questions, and address Fellow concerns. ATC staff will then finalize the draft plan based on the feedback received.

April 2019
Present a final draft for review and comment by ATC Fellows and the ATC Advisory Board at the All Corps PD on Saturday, April 27. ATC staff make final revisions based on the feedback received.

May 2019
The final ATC strategic plan will be unveiled to the public at the Annual Celebration Event held at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock on Saturday, May 18. This plan will guide how ATC staff approach partner districts when working to place 2019 Fellows throughout May and June and during yearly kick-off meetings in August. A final booklet will be created and shared with the broader public later during the 2019-20 school year.

Throughout this process, we strive to maintain communityauthenticitytransparencybravery, and vulnerability. As we all continually work toward the ideal of #ATCfamily and a shared commitment to educational equity, we hope to build our collective investment in a strategic plan that will actively move the organization forward in meeting the needs of our partner schools and communities.

Your voice matters, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts at every step of the way. We commit to making the time and space to seriously consider whatever you have to say; we only ask that you commit to keeping your responses humbleconstructive, and solutions-oriented.

Take the survey now by clicking the button below. We kindly ask that you complete the survey by Wednesday, January 9 if possible; although we welcome your response at any time.