Educators pitch RIDE for $15,000 grants

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The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is putting their money where their mouth is when talking about how to improve professional development programming for educators in the state.

RIDE awarded two $15,000 “micro grants” on Wednesday at CCRI’s Knight Campus in Warwick following a competitive “Pitch Fest,” which tasked teams of educators and administrators from district public schools, charter schools, educational-minded organizations and higher education institutions to present a targeted training program that would improve upon how novice and experienced educators are trained in their chosen topic area.

“It's very easy to talk about innovation. Often we think about innovation as, let's just get other people to agree that my idea is the right way to go,” said RIDE Commissioner Ken Wagner. “But really embedding innovation in an iterative, collaborative process is a really important phase for us to collectively go through to move aligned education forward in Rhode Island, so this is a huge event for us.”

The Pitch Fest featured five finalists chosen from a larger pool of 10 proposed programs that required a breakdown of the program’s overview, goals, potential for growth and how it would improve upon the current methods. Some finalists chose to present prospective programs that assisted teachers in areas of need already diagnosed by RIDE, such as assisting teachers of English as a second language through a mentoring process and ways to implement more diversity among staff at Providence College.

Johnston Superintendent Bernie DiLullo presented (alongside Kristen LaCroix, Director of the Principal Residency Network for the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity) and Marie Ahern (Director of Curriculum of Exeter-West Greenwich) a project that would expand the number of mentors available to aspiring principals in order to provide them with a wider range of experiences, ideally from people who had experience with different schools, types of students and challenges.

“I think the commonality with all the presentations is identifying a transformational need in training programs for either pre-service teachers or pre-service administrators,” DiLullo said. “The need [addressed by our program] is to provide a more focused experience that gives the candidate a more universal experience prior to them entering the field.”

DiLullo said that principals typically only get one mentor to shadow prior to taking over a new position or becoming a new principal, and that sometimes those mentors can leave the district, creating a gap in transitional efficiency that can harm a district. Although his project was not chosen for the grant, he said it was encouraging to see RIDE really reaching out to districts and educational experts in the state for ideas and collaborative opportunities.

Programs eventually awarded with the grants were the aforementioned program providing ELL teachers mentors, presented by Michael Broschart (Manager, Teacher Leadership Development of Teach for America), Alexa Brunton (Implementation and EL Specialist for New England Basecamp) and Maureen Rooney (elementary teacher, Providence Public Schools).

The other grant winner was a program that would support ESL teachers using calibrated videos in order to streamline best practices for clinical supervisors and teachers. It was presented by Kelly Donnell (associate professor at the Roger Williams University School of Continuing Studies), Theresa DeRiso (ELA Department Chair for Lincoln Public Schools), Liz Russillo (science teacher, Smithfield Public Schools) and Alicia Storey (assistant superintendent, Westerly).

Wagner, while asking hard-hitting questions following the presentation of each team, offered high praise of the pitches.

“We heard great ideas and we had great themes,” he said. “We need to invest in communities of practice, we need to pay attention to the role of the principal, we need to pay attention to diversity in its broadest forms of all different kinds of diversity and we need to pay attention to black and brown folk and their roles as learners and their roles as teachers. We need to name it, talk about it, do it and generate support for it. This was a huge moment for us as a community.”

Wagner further said that, although the grants were not enormous sums of money, they may provide the push necessary that can bring about real change in how the state conducts professional training and development.

“It does not take a lot of money to move systems, it takes a lot of dedication,” he said. “Sometimes a little bit of money can prompt that spark that can help move systems forward.”

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