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Grow Our Own Program Takes Root

Since 2019, the Iowa City Community School District has been working on an initiative called Grow our Own to create a more diverse workforce.  

Grow Our Own is a new program that provides our District a way to develop talent from within. This is the first program of its kind in the state of Iowa. 

The goal of the program is to diversify our teaching staff and help increase the retention rate within our District. 

“With the teacher shortage, the traditional ways of recruiting aren’t working and aren’t producing enough teachers to support our goals. This is one of our ways of trying to decrease that shortage,” said Eric Howard, Direct of Equity and Employee Relations. 

There are three different pathways within the Grow Our Own program. 

The first pathway is for support staff who want to earn their teaching license. Our District and the Foundation partnered with GreenState Credit Union to provide a 50% tuition cost-sharing system. Candidates can choose which university they want to attend, and after graduation, candidates will have a guaranteed position with our District. 

Since the initial introduction of the program, there have been 80 applicants for the support staff-to-teacher pathway. After reviewing the applications, ten will be selected to be a part of the program. While the individuals are attending school, they will be required to meet as a cohort a few times a year to offer education on District-specific topics as well as provide support.

"We are extremely excited that we are launching the staff-to-teacher pipeline as well as our student-to-teacher pipeline this year,” said Chace Ramey, Deputy Superintendent.

We will also provide a pathway for any high school students who might be interested in pursuing an education major in college. 

The goal of this pathway is to provide high school students mentorship and assistance on their journey to become an educator. There will be sponsors available in each high school for students who are interested in majoring in education, and they will be responsible for guiding the students through to college.

“Our hope was to have at least 50 students who were interested,” said Carmen Gwenigale, a Leadership Fellow who helps coordinate the student-to-teacher program. “Right now, at this moment, we have 70 students who are interested in being part of the program this year.”

The students will also be paired up with mentors from the Aspiring Educators program at the University of Iowa who will help prepare them for college, giving them support with college applications, financial aid, and scholarships. 

Once the students have a degree and a teaching license, they will be offered a job with our District if there’s an open position.

“This pathway will help make hiring easier because our pool of applicants will be familiar with our District and we are familiar with them,” said Gwenigale. “When it comes to retention, the best teachers are the ones who know us.”

The final path within the Grow Our Own program is the teacher-to-administrator pathway. The participants in this pathway are known as Leadership Fellows. There are 14 Leadership Fellows who have stepped into administrative roles within our District and will serve in various buildings.

“The Fellowship has given me the opportunity to experience the principal position and decide if it is a good match before I fully commit,” said Heather Stevens, a Leadership Fellow. 

“So far, this experience has been invaluable and changed me as a leader. I have learned about leadership and building a positive school culture at Christine Grant Elementary. I hope to continue to watch an experienced principal navigate everyday incidents that arise, building my confidence to handle whatever comes my way. “

The teacher-to-administrator pathway is a two-year program where Fellows will be able to engage in meaningful work that exposes them to the role of an administrator. Fellows will be responsible for leading summer school, engaging in building-wide restorative justice efforts, and will be able to learn the ins and outs of our District. All of this will prepare them to serve as effective leaders upon completion of the program. 

"It’s important that we have teachers and leaders that resemble the students in our classes,” said Ramey. “The program helps us to diversify our staff so that our staff looks more like the students that we serve.”