Polk State College and Polk County Public Schools announced a new program Monday that will address the statewide teacher shortage by creating a pathway from high school to college to employment for aspiring educators.
President Angela Garcia Falconetti and Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd signed an agreement to launch ELITE – or Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education – a program that will allow students to earn associates degrees in high school and seamlessly transition into Polk State’s Education baccalaureate program. Graduates will be immediately eligible to teach with Polk County Public Schools – Polk County’s largest employer.
“Polk State College is thrilled to partner with Polk County Public Schools to develop a clear pathway for students to pursue careers in education,” Falconetti exclaimed. “ELITE will put students on an expedited, affordable path to becoming future leaders of Polk County’s classrooms, and this partnership will allow us to address the local need for teachers and ensure that highly-skilled educators are available for our children and our ever-growing community.”
Students at Ridge Community, Haines City, and Bartow high schools will have the opportunity to dual enroll through the ELITE program and earn associates degrees at no cost to them. This will put them on a fast track to earning their bachelor’s degrees from Polk State two years after graduating high school, making them eligible to teach by the time they are 20 years old.
“It’s simple: today’s high schoolers will become tomorrow’s leaders in education,” Byrd said. “As a former classroom teacher, I know the tremendous commitment that is necessary to tackle all of the requirements, training, and hard work for entering this noble calling. If we can guide our youth to the fastest path, we reap the benefits of getting highly qualified educators in our classroom who can inspire the next generation.”
Byrd also noted Polk State’s affordability and stressed that students will graduate with very little, if not zero, student-loan debt.
The program will include rigorous coursework and require students to maintain an unweighted grade-point average of 3.0.
“ELITE will put students on an expedited, affordable path to becoming future leaders of Polk County’s classrooms, and this partnership will allow us to address the local need for teachers and ensure that highly-skilled educators are available for our children and our ever-growing community.” — President Angela Garcia Falconetti
“Polk State has built-in measurements for state-mandated standards to create graduates who are ready to immediately and successfully lead classrooms,” Director of Education Patricia Linder explained. “The criteria for each program’s curriculum are defined by Florida Statutes, so there is not a lot of wiggle room – when I say rigor, I mean rigor.”
Polk State launched its Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education in August 2016 in partnership with Polk County Public Schools to fill the local need for educators. Today, Polk State is the only public post-secondary institution in Polk County offering state-approved teacher education preparation programs. That means Polk County residents and aspiring teachers have the ability to earn prestigious degrees at greatly reduced costs – all close to home.
Falconetti extended a special thanks to Linder, Clinical Education Coordinator Sharon Kochanowski, Professor of Education Rebecca Pugh, and Dean of Academic Success Donald Painter for their hard work in forging this partnership.
“I also want to thank Superintendent Byrd and Polk County Public Schools for their leadership in this initiative,” Falconetti said. “I am thrilled to see the ELITE program come to fruition, and I am excited for us to produce highly-skilled future leaders of our local classrooms.”