American Novelist Sandra Scofield once said, "We are not beginners forever, but we never stop learning." Words the Marshfield R-1 School district apparently lives by as it has recently offered educators the option to enroll in a master's degree program. Dr. Garrett Lowder, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services for the R-1 school district, spoke on the program's beginnings, requirements, and benefits.
The great resignation, which happened not too long ago, saw many people quit their jobs to find something more fulfilling. Because of this, many businesses saw a dramatic decrease in employee retention. The government started providing relief funds to the states, including Missouri, which used the funds intending to keep some of these essential careers like education stable,
"The Missouri Department of Education set aside a certain amount of funds for two grants. One was to help encourage high schoolers to get into the education field. The other was for teacher retention." Lowder explains.
Both grants are one-time-only funds, so Marshfield received both and formed a committee to determine the best way to make the most of this limited resource.
The committee sent out a survey to the teachers of the district and, from there, discussed other factors that affect teacher retention. It found that salary was a significant factor. Thus, the committee looked into ways to satisfy that need and found that the best way was through graduate studies. The committee decided, based on survey results, it would offer a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Indeed a win-win-win situation for the R-1 school district.
Firstly, teachers could advance their education by earning this degree. Those teachers, in turn, can help the school improve its education curriculum. This means a better curriculum equals better education for the students of Marshfield.
The committee analyzed and compared to other school districts to see what programs they offered and which universities they previously worked with.
Lowder further explained the process "We put our requests to the local universities to see if they would be interested in meeting and talking to us about what could be done. We met with Missouri State University, Drury, Evangel, and Southwest Baptist University. They all shared what we could do through a partnership. That included what the cost would look like for students and the criteria."
What stood out with all these potential partnerships was that the professors of the classes were going to be actual people the teachers of Marshfield already knew and worked with. Including Assistant Superintendents Dr. Lowder and Dr. Rocky Valentine, principals from the Marshfield schools, and the superintendent himself, Dr. Mike Henry.
After reviewing all the proposals and weighing all their options, Marshfield decided to partner with Southern Baptist University. What sealed the deal was the tuition cost for the teachers. SBU offered a discount on the master's degree course with nine free credit hours, and the school, thanks to the Missouri Department of Education grant, would cover half the remaining cost. The teachers could then set a payment plan for the remaining price, meaning they could get their master's degree and come out of the whole experience debt free.
One last challenge stood in the way of the community. Who, and how many could participate in this course? The committee decided the best way to approach this was through an application process.
Lowder recalls, "To get people in that program, we had an application process. We sat down, and using the criteria that we had set, we settled on twelve recipients. It was the right size as recommended by SBU and manageable for us since all of us work full-time jobs."
Those enrolled into the program are :Amanda Lansdown, Amber Long, Wendy Hill, Mackenzie Detherow, Amanda Gower, Carrie McLeod, Amanda Steele, Kristina Forge, Lauren Lancaster, Marlee McShane, Austin Gastineau, Renee Robertson. The master's degree course will span two years. Starting Oct. 19, the class will meet in person every Wed. for the fall and spring semesters, whereas in the summer, they will switch to online. It is expected the twelve teachers will finish their courses in the summer of 2024 and graduate at the end of July.
As long as the budget allows, the school plans to continue the masters program for years to come.
"It is a benefit to everyone," Dr. Lowder comments, "The work will be rigorous and difficult because we know that is where the best learning happens."
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