Achieve Foundation announces professional development grants

Tawauna Stukes presents a symbolic check to Kate Facto.

Staff members from five South Orange & Maplewood School District schools will devote time this summer to expanding and enriching their knowledge and skills at advanced academic training programs offered by esteemed institutions in locations across the country.

Totaling more than $14,000, these professional development experiences will be funded through Achieve’s Riecke Teaching Fellowships.

Proposals are judged on their potential to introduce innovative strategies to the District’s classrooms and to support equitable student learning in line with the District’s educational goals.

A key fellowship component is participants’ subsequent sharing of their newly-acquired skills with their colleagues in the district.

• At the elementary school level, Clinton Elementary School Special Education Teacher Kate Facto will become the latest SOMA staff member to attend the intensive National SEED New Leaders Training in eastern Massachusetts. SEED promotes multiculturalism and social justice by engaging educators, parents, community leaders and professionals in various fields to collaborate in learning and dialogue culminating in relevant systemic analysis and change.

Facto will prepare to lead similar sessions in SOMSD that will support the District’s goal of creating a more equitable and empathic learning environment.

• Megan Hellthaler and Erin Bolstad, reading specialists at Marshall Elementary School, will head west to Bozeman, Montana to the Big Sky Literacy Summit to study teaching strategies based on the Science of Reading. This approach incorporates interdisciplinary perspectives on teaching, including long-term classroom experience, research, and practical implementation of new techniques to inform culturally responsive teaching and collaborative learning communities.

• Middle school Speech Teacher Diane Leick requested funds for an in-depth online workshop that will reinforce the skills she gained last year at a Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing seminar. This approach incorporates student choice in developing individualized language skills acquisition plans, supporting student engagement and ownership early in the learning process.

• A team of South Orange Middle School classroom teachers, Amy Rowe, Kyndell Pierce-Tuttle and Talaya Hampton will attend the Summer Writing Institute for Racial Equality in Literacy in Washington, D.C. There, social justice educators will gather to explore the role of writing as a critical tool for students to affirm their identities and develop their authentic voices. To that end, the teachers will learn to facilitate culturally responsive writing workshops.

• Aware that a new state law will require all high school seniors to apply for financial aid as a graduation requirement, CHS Guidance Counselor Jennifer McDowell saw the need and opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the full range of funding options available to college applicants. She hopes to be an advocate for families to learn about sources of aid to help pay for an education at institutions where students may have been accepted, but that are unaffordable to them, an issue which she observes, is a frequent deterrent to college entrance. McDowell will pursue her goals at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators Conference in Milwaukee, WI. Her fellowship will support the District’s Access & Equity goal by supporting student development of post high school plans.

“We are thrilled to fund these opportunities that nourish our wonderful faculty members’ professional passions,” Achieve Board Member and Riecke Committee Chair Tawauna Stukes said.

The Michelle T. Riecke Teaching Fellowship was established with the Achieve Foundation in 2004 in memory of a beloved Board of Education president who died at age 39 following a 3-year battle with cancer. The fellowship is rooted in the belief that encouraging educators to undertake continuing education in best practices and sharing it with their colleagues is a key factor in fostering outstanding education.

“I want to congratulate all our District educators who have been awarded a Rieke Fellowship, and look forward to their putting their knowledge into practice next year,” said Kevin F. Gilbert, SOMSD Acting Superintendent. “On behalf of the District, I am very grateful for our partnership with the Achieve Foundation and the opportunities they provide for our educators to become better professionals.”

Megan Hellthaler and Erin Bolstad will attend the Big Sky Literacy Summit thanks to a grant from the Achieve Foundation.