A unique partnership was unveiled Monday (Aug. 6) in Polk County that will help combat a statewide teacher shortage and fill local classrooms.
The program, known as ELITE (Establishing Leaders In Teacher Education), creates a faster way for Polk County students to enter a teaching career.
The initiative was made possible by a cooperative agreement between Polk County Public Schools and Polk State College.
Superintendent Jacqueline M. Byrd and Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti, president of Polk State College, signed the agreement Monday, making the program a reality.
“It’s simple: today’s high schoolers will become tomorrow’s leaders in education,” said Byrd. “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.”
“Polk State College is thrilled to partner with Polk County Public Schools to develop a clear pathway for students to pursue careers in education,” said Falconetti. “Through ELITE, students will have the opportunity to earn Polk State Associate in Arts degrees in high school and seamlessly transition into the College’s Education baccalaureate program, which will put them on an expedited, affordable path to becoming future leaders of Polk County’s classrooms. 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. Polk State is proud to partner with Polk County Public Schools in this effort, and I am excited to see ELITE come to fruition.”
Beginning this school year, three high schools will offer the ELITE program: Bartow High, Haines City High and Ridge Community High.
The curriculum will include rigorous coursework, and students will need to maintain an unweighted GPA of 3.0 throughout the program. The high standards will help prepare those who complete the program for the challenging, fulfilling profession of being a teacher.
ELITE students will work toward earning an associate degree from Polk State at the end of their fourth year of high school. They will then work toward successfully completing two years at Polk State to earn their bachelor’s degree in elementary education or early childhood education and immediately become eligible for employment as a teacher with Polk County Public Schools.