Recap: Condition of Education in Western MA

This year’s Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report focused on how Massachusetts can support teachers in recovering from the challenges of the pandemic and best recruit and prepare the teaching force of tomorrow. Earlier this month, we joined members of the education and business communities of Western Massachusetts to dig deeper into these ideas on a local level.

In our first in-person public event since early 2020, we were joined by a panel featuring William Cameron of the Pittsfield School Committee, Matthew Deninger of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Graeham Dodd of Smith College’s Project Coach, and Pema Latshang of Teach Western Mass. The panel discussed ideas for enhancing supports for educators like increasing salaries for teachers and paraprofessionals, offering sabbaticals to give teachers an opportunity to work in state policy positions, and providing common planning time for educators to participate in professional learning groups. The group also discussed how schools and districts could use ESSER funds to invest in teacher supports.

The conversation highlighted the need to enhance educator recruiting and training to address teaching vacancies caused by the pandemic.

Pema Latshang, the Founding Executive Director of Teach Western Mass, talked about how her organization is working to reduce barriers to the teaching profession through a teacher residency program. The program offers a one-year, accelerated certification route for aspiring educators, with the specific goal of increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce in Western Massachusetts. Teach Western Mass also offers a Certified Teacher program that provides licensed educators with customized support to help them get hired and excel in the classroom. The programs train current and future teachers to be effective educators while building strong relationships in their school communities and developing standards-based and culturally relevant curriculum for students in the region’s highest-need schools. Both programs are working to reduce barriers to entry into the teaching profession for people of color by providing customized support, scholarships, and access to a network of like-minded peers. 

Graeham Dodd, Director of the Education Initiative at Smith College, talked about Project Coach, an out-of-school-time program in Springfield, that was featured in this year’s Condition of Education Action Guide. The program, which is run by Smith College in partnership with Springfield Public Schools and Baystate Health, is designed to prepare aspiring educators to enter the field while improving academic and social-emotional outcomes for students. Project Coach uses a “cascading mentorship model,” where high school students from Springfield are tutored and mentored by aspiring teachers from Smith College to become coaches and leaders in the local community. These teens apply the skills they develop in the program by serving as coaches themselves in an afterschool program for elementary students. The program simultaneously prepares graduate and undergraduate students for teaching careers, improves academic outcomes for high school students, and teaches important life skills to elementary school students.

The event also featured a presentation on the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth from Rennie’s Sophie Zamarripa, as well as remarks from Paul Belsito of The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, Tricia Canavan of Tech Foundry, Edward Lambert of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, and Rennie’s Chad d’Entremont.