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New Grad School in Education Cleared to Start Training Teachers

Unconventional program born out of charter schools focuses more on practical teaching and classroom skills.

rochelle hendricks
Rochelle Hendricks, New Jersey's secretary of higher education

The Christie administration has approved a new graduate school of education in Newark, clearing the last hurdle on Friday in resolving questions over the credentials of the innovative program’s faculty.

The Relay Graduate School of Education, started in New York City in 2011 by the leaders of three prominent charter school networks, will open its New Jersey program in September with its first 25 or 30 students seeking Master’s degrees.

The program already has a presence in Newark, where it offers alternate certification for about 100 new teachers, most of them from charter schools.

Relay will be the first grad school approved by the state that is not affiliated with an in-state university. Some of New Jersey's university-based teacher preparation programs have objected to it as not fitting their definition of a graduate program.

The unconventional program focuses more on practical teaching and classroom skills and less on education theory and credit hours. It is specifically aimed at teachers in high-poverty districts and charter schools, and has won praise for its focus on the student achievement outcomes for its graduating teachers.

Rochelle Hendricks, the state’s secretary of higher education, had given approval to the school in June, following a lengthy process that included an outside consultant’s report and review of the state’s council of higher education presidents.

But approval was contingent on Relay showing that it met the state's requirement that its faculty have doctorates or "equivalent" credentials, including research or other measures of qualifications.

After a month of discussions, Hendricks on Friday wrote Relay’s president, Norman Atkins, that she was satisfied the requirement had been met with revisions to the school’s faculty handbook, clearing the way for the school to open.

The school had listed in its handbook what it called the following “equivalent qualifications:”

  • Demonstrates exceptional K-12 classroom performance.
  • Shows evidence of contemporary experience in and commitment to urban education.
  • Participates in cutting-edge scholarship.
  • Demonstrates experience teaching and training teachers.
  • Demonstrates training and experience in teaching graduate students.

For example, the dean of the program, James Verrilli, holds a master’s degree but also has 25 years of experience in leading and training teachers in several schools, including the North Star Academy charter school, where the Relay program will be located.

“We have worked incredibly hard since 2008 in developing a program that is practical, innovative, and results driven,” Atkins said yesterday, after receiving the approval.

Atkins is founder and board chair of the Uncommon Schools charter school network, which includes Newark’s North Star Academy charter schools.

“We are grateful to the secretary for giving us the opportunity to serve master’s students this fall,” Atkins said yesterday. “We can’t wait to get started.”

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