Lindsay pays for students to return as teachers


Lindsay Unified begins “pipeline” to bring graduates, employees back to town by paying for college and credentialing

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

LINDSAY – Pedro Morales-Espinoza has known since the seventh grade that he wanted to be a math teacher in his hometown of Lindsay. And when he graduated from Lindsay High School fourth in his class last month, he was given a full-ride scholarship to do it … not from the university he’s attending this fall and not from a scholarship program but rather his future employer. 

Morales-Espinoza is part of the first group of Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) graduates and employees to have their tuition, books and related educational expenses paid for by the district if they agree to return to LUSD as teachers, known in the district as learning facilitators. 

“I wish to follow in the footsteps of those before me, and be able to teach the learners of the next generation just as the learning facilitators of my time have taught me,” Morales-Espinoza said.

The “learning facilitator pipeline” is an innovative approach to recruiting and retaining teachers for LUSD’s competency-based achievement model and is funded through the Empower Lindsay Teacher School Leader Incentive (TSL) program. The federal grant will provide LUSD with $28.2 million over the next three school years for teacher recruitment, development, and retention. Lindsay was one of 14 districts nationwide to receive the grant from the U.S. Department of Education last October.

Amalia Lopez, a former LUSD teacher who now oversees the TSL grant, said the overarching goal of the pipeline is to ensure all Lindsay students, known as learners, have the best learning facilitator every day. This includes developing current district educators with the highest quality professional learning on instructional practices and leadership from nationally recognized experts in education to the creation of a teacher pipeline. 

Pipeline participants such as Morales-Espinoza will receive financial support for tuition and academic costs up to $25,000 per year for up to four years. Those in the program will also receive $100 per day to attend professional development and training courses, such as intro to classroom management and intro to teaching English learners. Those courses are held on Saturdays to make them more available for those attending college or working toward their credential. 

“That first year of teaching either makes or breaks most people,” Lopez said. “We are offering professional development while they are going to college or getting their credential so that there isn’t that first-year teacher learning curve.”

The newly established pipeline kicked off this summer with 60 approved applicants who will receive both financial and academic support in college and credential programs, including the Integrated Teacher Pathway through College of the Sequoias and Fresno State. Applicants submitted a personal statement about their desire to teach in Lindsay alongside letters of reference and transcripts. The pipeline is coordinated by Marcela Serrators, a Lindsay High School alumni who spent several years working in admissions and outreach at Cal Lutheran University before returning to her hometown. Serrators mentors teachers in the pipeline and also tracks their progress as they work to obtain their degrees and credentials. 

“Our goal is to provide all of the support and mentoring they need, and [Serrators] provides that,” Lopez said.

The first cohort of participants not only included recent and former Lindsay High School graduates but also current classified staff who already work at Lindsay schools. Lopez said those para-professionals include afterschool program coordinators, intervention aids, food service staff and maintenance technicians who have longevity in the district, exemplary work history and who have found an interest and passion for teaching students. 

Erik Gonzalez, who did not grow up in Lindsay, has worked for LUSD for seven years as a community outreach advisor at John J. Cairns continuation high school. Lopez said he is just a semester away from finishing his degree and moving into his credentialing program. More importantly, Lopez said he was interested in returning specifically to teach at the continuation high school. 

“He’s a perfect example of someone who is already working in the district, already knows our system and already knows our kids,” Lopez said. “We can always use more teachers who want to teach in the alternative education program.”

Lopez said the pipeline is unique because it is flexible enough to help potential educators wherever they are at in the process to earning their teaching credential. She said many classified employees have already been attending night classes to get their degree or credential while local graduates are starting their freshman year of college.

“We discovered really quickly that no one has ever attempted this,” Lopez said. “It’s been an interesting endeavor to put all the pieces in play because we have no precedence, nobody to look to as an example. But that’s just old hat here [in Lindsay].”

Education innovation has been a hallmark of LUSD since the district implemented its performance based system in 2008. Now a nationally recognized model of customized learning, LUSD has transformed its vocabulary, curriculums and classrooms to improve learning for students at their competency level, regardless of their age, ability or grade level. 

Lindsay’s educational model was previously awarded with 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 city-wide wi-fi project.  

Morales-Espinoza was the beneficiary of those programs, which also included a separate behavioral grade on which scholarships were awarded. The culture of learning encouraged Morales-Espinoza to be active in sports, such as track, and school clubs including Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and AVID. Morales-Espinoza said he wants to follow in the footsteps of his siblings, both LHS graduates who returned to town as educators. His brother Miguel Morales is a teacher at Roosevelt School in Lindsay and his sister Alma Morales is a blended learning assistant who provides technical support to teachers at each school site.

John Caesar, who helped coach Morales-Espinoza on the Lindsay High School track team, agrees that, “Pedro’s character is beyond reproach and I see him as a tremendous asset to our learning community… He will inspire future learners to their fullest potential.”

Morales-Espinoza will be a freshman at UC Santa Barbara majoring in mathematics this fall. He credits LUSD with fostering his love of math and for now supporting him his ultimate goal of earning a college degree and returning home to teach math. 

“As much as the grant serves the school district, we want the grant to also serve the community and invest in the community,” Lopez said. “At the end of the day, we want the district owned by the people who are committed to it – those are the people grew up here, graduated from here and work here. We want the people who work in this district to be people who believe in this community.”  

The Lindsay Unified TSL learning facilitator pipeline intends to give Morales-Espinoza that chance.

For more on the TSL grant and the learning facilitator pipeline, email Amalia Lopez at [email protected].

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