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Science and math teachers can get boost

Free tuition at Catawba College to earn a master’s degree in teaching science or math is a really big deal.

Catawba and the Rowan-Salisbury School System announced last week that they’d formed a partnership to make the offer, designed to attract more science and math teachers to Rowan. Local schools have nine vacancies for teachers in those subject areas even as we speak. Substitutes are rotating in and out to fill the gap — hardly an ideal situation.

There’s no truly free lunch or tuition, of course. In this case, local philanthropist Fred Stanback has generously granted $300,000 to fund tuition for 20 local teachers. Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody has made it clear to everyone that she wants to make dramatic changes in the school system. According to Moody, Stanback asked for her wish list to help reach that goal, and this initiative was on that list.

The new master’s program will be open to all interested teachers, but the grant will cover tuition for only Rowan-Salisbury teachers who also commit to continue to work in the system five more years.

Moody says the Catawba program will be one of the few STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — masters programs in the Southeast, and it has garnered some national attention. On Monday, news of the announcement was the lead item in the daily news bulletin from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a national, 125,000-member organization made up of educators.

If the General Assembly would OK a bump in teacher pay for those earning advanced degrees, the program would be even more attractive. Lawmakers ended the practice of giving higher pay to teachers with graduate degrees; they said earning a degree did not improve teacher effectiveness. That may be up for debate in general, but in the ever-changing fields of science and math, studies have found that more education for the teacher results in higher achievement for the students.

The partnership between Catawba and Rowan-Salisbury Schools raises the profile of both institutions. Catawba already has the Center for the Environment, also thanks to the Stanback family. The STEM master’s program could complement that well-respected program, and vice versa. As for Rowan-Salisbury, wouldn’t it be great to become known for innovative thinking and spectacular professional development? Moody and her team are working on it — and succeeding.

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