WMU News

Teacher preparation program lands top honors

March 1, 2004

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University program that places hundreds of teacher interns in schools and prepares them for their own classrooms is among the best in the country.

WMU's School/University Partnership Team--known as SUPT--won the Distinguished Program in Teacher Education award, which was presented by the Association of Teacher Educators at its annual conference Feb. 15-18 in Dallas. The honor underscores ATE's efforts to highlight effective models of teacher preparation and recognizes programs that are innovative models of collaboration between local education agencies and institutions of higher education.

"This is probably one of the most important awards we've received in the last few years," says Dr. Gary Wegenke, dean of the WMU College of Education. "ATE is a major organization for those faculty involved in teaching and learning, and the panelists who had to referee the decision are outstanding in their field,"

The panel that made the selection included representatives from such groups as the University of Texas, Kappa Delta Pi and the National Education Association.

Dr. Katharine Cummings, director of the program, and Sue Timmer, the program's student teaching coordinator, made a formal presentation at the conference and accepted the award on behalf of the college. Other WMU officials and two local public school educators joined them at the event.

Now in its 10th year, SUPT is based on "cluster sites," a system that offers emerging educators a chance to complete their field experiences in diverse and supportive settings. Each cluster is comprised of five to 12 interns per semester, plus their mentor teachers, mentor coaches and a University coordinator. Sites are located in school districts throughout Michigan, including the Kalamazoo area, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and metropolitan Detroit.

The program's broad reach is one of the characteristics that sets it apart, Cummings says. This year the program has 994 interns, up from about 600 in 1993.

"The size of SUPT and our ability to maintain strong communications--even though we have hundreds interns each semester--intrigues some people," she says. " Size isn't necessarily an indication of quality, but even smaller programs struggle with communication. Also, we work with a diverse set of schools in terms of their location, their population and their curriculum."

In addition, the support that interns and mentors find in SUPT is integral to its success, Cummings notes. Once a month during the academic year, WMU plays host to a staff development meeting on campus to explore areas of interest identified by the partnership. These meetings bring together University coordinators, mentor coaches, and special guests from the schools and from the field of education. Nearly 90 educators attend these monthly meetings to solve problems, plan new initiatives and study various aspects of the cluster site program.

"What SUPT has to offer teachers makes a difference," says Marti Bielby, a first-grade teacher at Indian Prairie Elementary School in Kalamazoo. The mentor teacher, who has been with the program for about nine years, attended the ATE conference with mentor coach Ronnie Johnson, a Spanish instructor at Battle Creek Central High School.

"It's truly a team," Bielby says of the SUPT effort. "I've been teaching for 17 years, and when I took interns before this program, the intern was placed in your building and the coordinator would come out three times in the semester to observe the student. That was it. SUPT is totally different."

For more information about SUPT, call Dr. Katharine Cummings at (269) 387-3437 or visit the program's Web site at <www.wmich.edu/coe/teach_edu/supt.html>.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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