Piedmont selected as Woodrow Wilson partner

BY JESSE SUTTON, News Editor

On March 3, Governor Nathan Deal held a press conference to announce that the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has extended its reach into the South, choosing Georgia as the fifth state in the teaching fellowship program. Five educational institutions were chosen to participate, one of which is Piedmont College.

According to Woodrow Wilson’s website,  “The Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellowship seeks to attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—into teaching in high-need Georgia secondary schools.”

The foundation approached Governor Deal and educational leaders in the state after completing research on the educational position of Georgia’s students, said Associate Dean of Education Julie Palmour.

Woodrow Wilson’s research showed that on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Process, 29 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at or above proficient level in mathematics, while the national average is 34 percent. Additionally, Georgia’s high poverty schools scored at an average of 23 points lower than the national averages.

“When [the foundation] decided to branch out to yet another state, they were looking for places of need where they could have an impact,” Palmour said. “To bring this program to Georgia would provide financial support for institutions that prepare teachers to enhance their current degree programs for beginning teachers in these STEM fields.”

Palmour said President James Mellichamp attended a meeting with public and private school presidents at the capital last April. Governor Deal invited the foundation to come to the meeting and share its interest in Georgia’s education system.

“President Mellichamp, being the insightful person that he is, acted on that very quickly,” Palmour said. “He talked with Dr. Gnecco, myself and some faculty in the School of Education and made sure we were on board with it because it is a huge thing.”

After deciding to participate, the Department of Education submitted a letter of intent to the foundation, discussing topics such as sustainability and capacity. Woodrow Wilson also wanted to visit the campus, and faculty, staff, current students and alumni shared their testimonies in order to demonstrate the success of Piedmont’s 15 year history of school partnerships.

“What cemented it for us was that the story was the same, no matter who was telling it,” Palmour said. “Superintendents, faculty, students and alumni all told the story of Piedmont and why they felt we would be successful with this based on their experiences with us.”

Fourteen schools in Georgia applied, and Piedmont, Columbus State University, Kennesaw State University, Mercer University and Georgia State were selected to participate in the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship.

“It’s going to put Piedmont on the national stage because we now are swimming in a big pond with bigger fish,” said Donald Gnecco, the Dean of Department of Education. “It’s a credit to Georgia, and we are very fortunate because we know a lot of colleges in Georgia competed to participate. To be selected as one of them is a real feather in our cap. People beyond Georgia are going to know who we are.”

In the spring of 2014, the foundation will begin accepting applications to the fellowship. Fellows, who can be recent college graduates or career changers, will receive $30,000 to complete their master’s degree. Piedmont receives a $400,000 grant from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the college provides in kind matching funds, such as scholarships or tuition remission.

“It’s a highly selective process: very competitive,” Palmour said. “It requires interviews and all kinds of supporting evidence that [a student]’s capacity for being a fellow is there. Once selected, the fellow determines where they want to attend.”

The foundation will select 60 fellows per year, which is approximately 12 students per institution. Those 12 students compose a cohort who begin and end the process together. In exchange for the $30,000, the students commit to teach for three years in high needs schools in Georgia. Those fellows will also receive two years of mentoring from their selected school after graduation.

“The benefit to the school district is that unlike typical clinical placements of student teachers, there is a high level of engagement by the faculty in the School of Education with those fellows,” Palmour said.

According to Palmour, 11 of those districts agreed to partner in some capacity with Piedmont, including Banks, Clarke, Franklin, Habersham, Hall and Stephens counties. The remaining are divided among the four remaining institutions.

“This gives us national recognition for this amazing work that we already do,” Palmour said. “It puts us on the map and helps to demonstrate that we might be this small college in Northeast Georgia, but we have not only the capacity for but the current programs that meet the standards of preparing teachers to work in a global environment.”