School system hopes to recruit and retain science and math teachers with scholarships, new graduate program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2015

Catawba College and the Rowan-Salisbury School System announced a partnership Friday that will allow 20 Rowan-Salisbury math and science teachers to receive master’s degrees in education from Catawba College tuition-free.

Catawba President Brien Lewis said the new program fits with the college’s mission to “engage in a deeper, more meaningful way with community” by identifying community needs, “and, whenever possible, help address them.”

“One of them, is the need to attract and retain outstanding teachers – especially in the areas of science and math,” he added.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System currently has nine openings for science and math teachers.

“We’ve got to do something,” said Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody, who hopes the program would serve as an incentive for prospective teachers.

“I hope that science and math teachers will see that Rowan-Salisbury is an exciting place to teach,” she said.

The program, slated to start in the spring of 2016, would be one of the few STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – master’s degree programs in the southeast.

“We expect to draw people from all over,” Moody said.

According to Dr. Jim Stringfield, Catawba’s dean of the Goodman School of Education, the master’s program is still a “work in process.”

The program will be 33-credit hours, and would likely take two years for teachers to complete.

Program curriculum will focus on content, tapping into Catawba’s math, science and technology programs, as well as teaching theory and practices and research.

“We believe in starting with or content,” Stringfield said. “It’s imperative people know their content.”

The master’s program must go through accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and blueprints must be approved by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

While he degree program wouldn’t be restricted to Rowan-Salisbury teachers, the scholarships would be.

A $300,000 gift from Fred Stanback will provide full tuition-scholarships for 20 Rowan-Salisbury teachers if they commit to stay with the district for at least five years.

“When we invest in our teachers, we invest in our children,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Julie Morrow.

Teachers who attended the Friday press conference were excited.

Elizabeth Henley, who teaches sixth grade math at West Rowan Middle School, just started taking graduate classes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“The cost is astronomical,” she said.

Henley added that the unique thing about the program is that it focuses on math and science teachers who want to stay in the classroom.

“A lot of teachers get their master’s in administration and leave the classroom,” she said.

“I love what I do too much to leave the classroom,” said first year teacher Suzanne Williams.

The eighth grade math teacher said she was excited to finally find a graduate program focused on classroom teachers rather than future principals. As a Catawba College graduate, she was even more enthusiastic.

“When can I apply?” asked Cindy Miller, a seventh grade math teacher at Corriher-Lipe Middle School.

Miller, who has her National Boards certification, always wanted to attend graduate school, but couldn’t afford it.

“What a fabulous thing for Rowan-Salisbury,” she said, adding that it shows that the district is supportive of its teachers.

Rachel Lawrence, an eighth grade science teacher at Southeast Middle, said she’s glad the district is switching its focus to STEM.

“I’m glad to see investment in the sciences,” she said. “It’s nice to be invested in as a teacher.”

“It’s an exceptional opportunity to keep great teachers in Rowan County,” said Greg Kuhn, a math teacher at Salisbury High School.

Teachers are lifelong learners, he said, but added, “master’s degrees are expensive.”

“Master’s degrees do make a difference for educators,” he said.