Former students return to their hometown as teachers through Lindsay Unified’s innovative teacher recruitment and residency programs
LINDSAY – Like many Lindsay residents, Cristi Gutierrez-Navarro probably wasn’t sure if she would ever return to Lindsay after graduating high school. And if it wasn’t for a unique program through Lindsay Unified School District, she may not have.
A graduate of Lindsay High School’s Class of 2010, Gutierrez-Navarro was among one of the first groups of students, called learners in Lindsay, to experience the shift to LUSD’s innovative, learner-centered system. The district implemented its performance-based system in 2008 which has since become a nationally recognized model of customized learning after being awarded a $10 million grant from the Department of Education in 2012. The federal grant accelerated its education system from just the high school to every grade level, provided tablets and laptops for every student, and gave them 24/7 access to the Internet and digital resources through a citywide wi-fi project. LUSD has since used the system to transform its vocabulary, curriculums and classrooms to improve learning for students at their competency level, regardless of their age, ability or grade level.
In 2018, Lindsay’s reimagining of education led to the district being awarded an even larger federal grant to help some of those learners return to the district as learning facilitators, the district’s name for teachers. Lindsay was one of just 14 districts nationwide to receive a $28.2 million grant over three years for teacher recruitment, development and retention. Officially known as the Empower Lindsay Teacher School Leaders Incentive, the “Pipeline Program” became an innovative approach to recruiting and retaining teachers for Lindsay’s unique performance based system.
After high school, Gutierrez-Navarro became an afterschool program leader at the same elementary school she once attended. The job allowed her to make money while getting her degree and when she heard about the Pipeline Program, a path to getting her teaching credential and her first teaching job.
“It was almost criminal how much of a difference I saw with the support within Lindsay versus other districts,” Gutierrez-Navarro said about the program.
She specifically cited increased access to professional development throughout the credentialing process, more personalized training for the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA), the written exam teachers must pass to be credentialed in California, and a supportive network of mentors as factors that set the program apart. She is now teaching third graders at her hometown elementary school, which Lindsay calls learning environments, and thrilled to be able to give back to the community which gave her an education and an opportunity.
“It’s kind of full circle because I was an after-school program leader at the same school site [where] I’m now teaching,” she explained.
Once completed, participants must teach in a Title I public school in California for two years. They usually stay in LUSD, as they already know we are committed to their success and believe in them. Superintendent Tom Rooney said it’s a win-win for the district.
“The graduates start here and often end up here, and we know they will make the best learning facilitators for our learners,” Superintendent Tom Rooney said.
Since starting it three years ago, 84 participants that have completed the Pipeline Program, 17% are first-generation high school graduates, and 82% are first-generation college learners. There are currently 11 program graduates teaching in Lindsay and there are currently 50 people in the program seeking jobs in either Lindsay or other school districts across the state.
“The Pipeline Program is an investment in Lindsay and a commitment that our learners will receive the ideal learning experience, delivered by staff who care about them,” Rooney said.
While education is paramount in Lindsay, Gutierrez-Navarro said the greatest hallmark of the Pipeline is its emphasis on the role that the Lindsay community plays in the learning process.
“There’s so much pride in coming back and giving back and being in those positions where you’re helping out your community,” Gutierrez-Navarro said. “I want other Lindsay people to feel that. That is what we’re doing, we’re making big changes in a small community.”
In the district’s constant pursuit of building a better educational system, Lindsay Unified is also offering more support for college graduates working in classrooms toward their credentials. In August the district launched its two teacher residency programs, the Marshall Program for single subject and the Alder Program for multiple subject credentials. Lindsay is one of only 18 locations throughout California offering Marshall Residencies for single-subject credentials and one of 65 schools throughout California partnering with Alder Graduate School of Education residents working on their multi-subject teaching credential or master’s degree.
A focus on learners is top of mind for the residents and their mentors. Program mentors are dedicated to teaching their Residents how to use a holistic approach, with an emphasis on each child’s learning capabilities, rather than a classroom-as-a-whole system.
Anyssa Frias, an Alder Residency Program participant who also attended LUSD as a learner, said the Program’s transparency is what has impacted her preparation in becoming a learning facilitator the most. “It … helps to see the planning process, to have a big picture, and then to break it down into smaller chunks …,” said Anyssa. She believes her time as a learner in the district has allowed her to understand the different ways LUSD learners demonstrate their knowledge, and she keeps that in mind when co-creating learning experiences with her mentor.
The residency programs offer individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree the opportunity to spend one year working in LUSD with its best learning facilitators, as they simultaneously complete their education to become a teacher. This ensures their academic work aligns with Lindsay’s learning style. Both Residents will be teaching in a California public school following their year-long residency in Lindsay.
You don’t need to be in the Pipeline Program or a graduate of it to participate as a resident.
“Both Pipeline and Residency Program participants have benefited from Lindsay’s learner-centered, data-driven, and whole-child approach, and now they want to give back to it,” Rooney said.