New Partnership Links Local Teachers, Davidson College and UNC Charlotte
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), Davidson College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte announced May 6 an innovative educational partnership to strengthen teaching and learning in local schools. The collaboration, called the Charlotte Teachers Institute (CTI), will offer seminars to public school teachers taught by faculty from Davidson and UNC Charlotte on subjects that teachers have chosen.

The Institute, the first of its kind in the state, is launching a pilot program for CMS teachers this fall, based on a national project at Yale University called the Yale National Initiative. Charlotte is in the process of applying to the Yale National Initiative for League Institute status and hopes to be officially accepted in early 2010. Four other U.S. cities (New Haven, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Houston) have launched similar institutes.

Davidson College and UNC Charlotte will each host two interdisciplinary seminars led by an expert faculty member who will explore a specific topic in depth. A diverse group of 52 CMS teachers — from 24 schools and multiple grade levels and backgrounds — will participate in the first program. The seminar participants, referred to as CTI Fellows, will attend 13 once-a-week, two hour seminars from August until November and write a new curriculum unit for their students based on the subject matter. Each participant will receive a $1,500 stipend and continuing education credits for successfully completing the program. CTI expects to increase the number of seminars offered in future years.

The seminars will allow CMS teachers to study subjects that both interest them and relate to their classroom teaching. The first four seminars offered include Davidson associate professor of English Ann Fox teaching “Exploring Depictions of Science in Theatre” and Davidson professor of chemistry Ruth Beeston teaching “A Scientific and Human Approach to Color.” UNC Charlotte historian Oscar Lansen will lead a seminar examining "Children in War and Conflict," and UNC Charlotte professor of mathematics Harold Reiter will lead a seminar on "Understanding Fundamental Ideas in Mathematics at a Deep Level."

“The focus on scholarly content makes this an outstanding program,” said Dr. Peter C. Gorman, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  “CTI will help CMS teachers benefit from the rich educational expertise at UNC Charlotte and Davidson.”

Davidson President Thomas W. Ross said that the program supports Davidson’s mission of community outreach. “CTI serves as a primary piece of Davidson College’s efforts to reach out to and connect with the greater Charlotte community, and the program works to reinvigorate Davidson faculty members, as they engage more closely with the regional educational community,” said Ross.

CTI works to fulfill the missions of both UNC Charlotte and Davidson College to reach beyond their campus boundaries to rejuvenate and prepare teachers so they may help today’s students succeed in an evolving and diverse world.

“CTI directly responds to recommendations set forth by UNC System President Erskine Bowles’ UNC Tomorrow Initiative, as it helps the University develop a seamless educational continuum from pre-kindergarten through higher education,” said UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip L. Dubois.

CMS, Davidson, and UNC Charlotte are contributing personnel and financial resources for CTI, and the initiative has begun to seek foundation and private support to expand the program to reach more of the school district’s 9,300 teachers.

The demand by teachers for this kind of professional development is high, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators. Teachers value the content-based nature of the program and its leadership development components. CTI relies on teachers to select the seminar topics and recruit new participants. Teacher leader Jeff Joyce, a social studies teacher at Northwest School of the Arts, has been involved with developing this program since the summer of 2005, when he traveled to Yale University to learn about the Teachers Institute model.

“This experience gives me a unique command over my classroom,” said Joyce. “It builds my knowledge and helps me dig deeper into my subject. It makes me feel like a professional, because I am treated like a professional. On every occasion it has helped bring out the great passion I have for the subject I teach.”

Strong teachers are essential for increasing student achievement at CMS, Gorman said.  “Teachers are the most important school-based factor in academic success. If we can continue to develop a teacher’s academic understanding, that teacher will be better equipped to help students learn the material.”

The Charlotte Teachers Institute launch coincides with the release of a new report by the Yale National Initiative that concludes that Teacher Institute participation enhances teacher quality and increases teacher retention. The report may be found at www.teachers.yale.edu.  To learn more about the Charlotte Teachers Institute, contact CTI Director, Molly Shaw at (704) 687-0078 or visit www.charlotteteachers.org.