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Grow Your Own Teachers Initiative, IL: Improving teacher recruitment, retention, and effectiveness in low-income communities

Grow Your Own Teachers (GYO) is an Illinois initiative to identify, train, and employ fully qualified teachers who have ties to the low-income communities where they will work. Promoting better family, school, and community partnerships is a primary goal of GYO. The initiative seeks to develop parent leadership and involvement in education by offering members of families and communities with low-income schools the opportunity to become certified teachers. GYO further seeks to develop teachers who are community leaders and, in turn, schools that respect, engage, and share ownership with families and communities. Each program under this initiative is organized and run by a consortium of institutions, including, at a minimum, a teacher preparation university or college, a community-based organization, and a school district. GYO began as an effort to address high rates of teacher turnover in low-income schools and was started by parents themselves organized through the Logan Square
Neighborhood Association (LSNA) and in partnership with Chicago State University.


The GYO initiative aims to create a pipeline of highly qualified teachers of color; improve teacher retention in low-income schools; recruit for hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill positions; and increase community connections and cultural competence of teachers. To these ends, GYO candidates receive forgivable loans of up to $25,0000, financial aid, and child care during their participation in the program. Recognizing that most candidates work full-time, the initiative offers higher education classes in the community, at least initially, at convenient times. After graduation, participants teach in their own neighborhoods in hard-to-staff schools for a minimum of five years, often in predominantly minority areas where teacher turnover is nearly twice the national rate.


Outcomes: The GYO initiative now includes 16 community organizations, 8 public universities,
4 private colleges/universities, 12 community colleges, 23 school districts, and 2 unions. As of
March 2009, the program has seen 11 graduates enter the classroom and has 500 hundred
candidates—mostly women of color—in the pipeline. Nearly 90 percent of GYO candidates are
people of color with strong ties to their communities.


Evidence: A 2009 evaluation included tracking program expansion and graduate experiences
with GYO, but can be expanded in the future to include more rigorous assessments of impact
on school, classroom, and student outcomes.


Learning: GYO programs tap into a base of teacher education candidates whom traditional
recruiting methods do not reach but who are well positioned to build connections among
families, schools, and communities.


Sustainability: In 2004, the Illinois state legislature passed the concept of Grow Your Own
Teachers into state law. The Grow Your Own Teacher Education Act: 093-082 sets a goal of
preparing 1,000 GYO teachers by 2016. Funds to support Grow Your Own are appropriated
annually. The state legislature approved $1.5 million in 2005 for statewide planning and $3
million in 2006 (FY 2007) for first-year implementation.


Scalability: A partnership in one neighborhood in the Northwest side of Chicago between a
community organization and higher education institution is now an expansive network of GYO
programs across the state of Illinois. Other state education agencies, including Arizona,
California, and Mississippi, have visited Illinois with plans to replicate the GYO initiative.