The Cobb County School District will pay for up to 500 employees to get advanced degrees through the University of West Georgia in a new effort to recruit and retain teachers.
The new program is called Georgia’s BEST, which stands for “Building Educator Success Together.” District officials believe it to be the first such initiative in the state.
The school board unanimously approved an initial $500,000 investment at a meeting Thursday afternoon.
“This lets our teachers see that we are putting our money where our mouth is,” Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said. “We value them and we want to help them not only stay with us, but increase their pay.”
Teachers who have master’s or doctoral degrees are eligible for higher pay in Georgia.
Last year, Cobb reported a 98% retention rate for its teachers. But the state regards teacher burnout as an emerging crisis in Georgia, and school leaders in metro Atlanta have noted it’s gotten increasingly difficult to fill teaching jobs. Additionally, Ragsdale noted that it costs the district about $21,000 to recruit and onboard a new educator.
There will be no cost for Cobb educators to participate in the program. The district will cover the tuition and fees for educators selected to participate. The University of West Georgia will discount the tuition and fees to about 50% of what those educators would pay out-of-pocket.
Those who participate in the program will be required to commit to working in Cobb schools for an additional three years after they complete their degrees.
The university will work with the Cobb school district to create curriculum relevant to Cobb schools. Cobb teachers and administrators will be hired as part-time faculty and work with professors to teach the courses, which will be crafted based on the district’s needs.
“We’re viewing this as a new model, hopefully, for how the state can support its educator workforce,” said Mike Dishman, dean of the UWG College of Education. “We think it has the potential to be historic and transformational.”
Dishman said the target start date for the program is this summer.
Osborne High math teacher Philip Attard said he had been considering getting an advanced degree, at the encouragement of his wife and co-workers. Now, he said, it feels like the obvious choice.
“There’s no reason not to,” he said. “I know I can do more than I’m doing.”
If the program is successful, the district will consider renewing and expanding it. The initial $500,000 will come from surplus funds.
“I greatly anticipate this (will be) nothing but a success,” Ragsdale said.
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