A partnership between Polk State College and Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) in Florida will lead to a pathway from high school to college to employment for aspiring educators. This new pathway program also addresses the statewide teacher shortage.
Last week, Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti and PCPS Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd signed an agreement to launch Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education (ELITE), a program that will allow students to earn associate degrees while 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.
“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,” Falconetti said.
Students at Ridge Community, Haines City, and Bartow high schools will have the opportunity to dual enroll through the ELITE program and earn associate 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 GPA of 3.0.
“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 postsecondary institution in Polk County offering state-approved teacher education preparation programs.
“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,” Falconetti said.