New partnership with MSU, Rockford Public Schools amplifies teacher learning

January 24, 2024

Nearly 20 K-12 teachers will return to the classroom as Michigan State University graduate students in January, supported by a new partnership between the College of Education and Rockford Public Schools.

These educators will join the M.A. in Teaching and Curriculum (MATC) program, allowing them to earn their master’s degrees, additional teaching endorsements, and new skills and specialty areas.

“I don’t know if we can overstate how excited we are to have a partner like MSU to support our teachers as they grow in their practice,” said Korie Wilson-Crawford, Rockford’s assistant superintendent for human resources.

A group of students in Rockford Public Schools hold up a Michigan State University sign with the words "Spartans Will"
All photos feature Rockford Public Schools teachers who have joined the MSU M.A. in Teaching and Curriculum program, pictured with their students. All photos provided by Rockford Public Schools.

The initiative is funded through the Michigan Department of Education “Grow Your Own” (GYO) program. Designed to diversify Michigan’s educator workforce and reduce teacher shortages, GYO grants provide school districts with funding for current staff to earn additional endorsements and initial certification. The Rockford grant covers tuition for students, who will earn their master’s degrees and additional endorsements within two years while maintaining their existing teaching positions.

Located in Rockford, Michigan, the Rockford school district serves just under 8,000 elementary and secondary students with 550 staff members across 13 schools.

Wilson-Crawford and Lisa Jacobs, Rockford’s executive director of community services, were exploring strategies to attract and retain high-quality staff when the state announced a new round of GYO funding. They saw an opportunity to provide teachers with additional expertise that will help them better serve their students and the broader Rockford community. It also offered the chance for teachers to pursue graduate education without additional financial strain.

Partnering with MSU’s Department of Teacher Education, the district successfully applied for funding, which will allow 18 teachers to begin their master’s degrees in January and another 15 to start in the fall. The selected teachers were recognized for their student-centered practices, leadership potential and ability to share their knowledge with colleagues.

A new set of grant funding will allow another cohort of Rockford educators to join the MATC program through 2025.

“Cultivating these kinds of partnerships is transformative for our programming, our work and what these practicing educators bring to bear for our curriculum,” explained Dorinda Carter Andrews, College of Education professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education. “There is also reciprocity in terms of the deeper knowledge base and skillsets that these educators will glean from the master’s program to then take back into the classroom and positively impact student outcomes.”

The MATC program

The MATC program is designed for educators seeking to grow in their profession and become school leaders. The program is ranked #1 among the nation’s online master’s programs in curriculum and instruction by U.S. News & World Report.

MATC students can earn additional teaching endorsements in reading and K-12 English as a second language, and concentrate their studies in a variety of elementary and secondary curricular areas.

The program provides hybrid learning and is designed to accommodate the schedules of working educators, and MATC Program Director Curtis Lewis is excited to explore new strategies around modality and cohort models with this group of students. The Rockford cohort will take their first class together and have regular opportunities to check in with each other to encourage collaboration. Additionally, Teacher Education faculty are developing more synchronous opportunities — online and on campus — for students across the MATC program to learn from each other.

“It really speaks to what a true partnership looks like,” said Lewis. “We’re excited to bring our two communities together and explore how we work, build and solve problems together.”

This collaborative cohort model aligns well with Rockford’s approach to professional development, where new staff are welcomed to the district in cohorts.

Most importantly, this MSU-Rockford partnership directly connects to the district’s primary value of “student-centered action.”

 “This partnership really falls in line with that because we know that at the heart of this program, the benefit really comes to our students,” said Wilson-Crawford. “When we have educators who are working collaboratively, when we have educators who are perfecting their craft and gaining knowledge, we know that that comes back to our students.”