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Mathematics education grant boosts rural teacher development with ESSER III funds

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Colorado Department of Education


The Colorado Department of Education is using $125,000 of federally allocated ESSER III funds to plan and deliver professional development opportunities for math teachers in the San Luis Valley.

As part of a statewide push to improve math education in all districts, CDE has used these funds to create the Regional Math Professional Development Grant, which will cover costs for teachers in the region to attend professional development events this month and to create similar events in the San Luis Valley next year. The main purpose of the grant is to provide stipends for teacher leaders to plan, develop and deliver professional development to colleagues at a region-wide professional development event in January 2024.

Veronica Starcher, CDE’s specialist for the Office of Learning Supports and former music teacher in the San Luis Valley, spoke to her personal experiences with professional development when she worked in the Monte Vista Public School District, as well as the  challenges seen by educators in the region.

“The San Luis Valley has 14 ferociously independent school districts all serving very similar communities,” Starcher said. “They’re all very connected to personnel, but when it comes to systems and communications there’s not so much.”

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education in a multitude of ways, including professional development for teachers. In the early days of the pandemic, education budgets throughout the state were repurposed to address immediate needs, and professional development opportunities were canceled or moved online. As a result, some Colorado teachers are under-developed or under-experienced compared to pre-pandemic benchmarks.

Mathematics teachers are difficult to retain statewide, and development opportunities remain more limited in rural areas, highlighting the need to develop regional teacher-leaders for these programs.

Grant recipients will travel to Denver for the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Summer Leadership Academy and Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics Learning Institute late this month. Funds from the program are to be used for travel, lodging and supplies. The Regional Math Professional Development Grant will reduce financial barriers associated with attending these important conferences and improve teacher quality and education methods in rural districts.

Starcher pointed out that oftentimes educators incur costs out of their own pockets to attend conferences on the Front Range. Rather than continuing to have teachers attend seminars and workshops in other communities, she saw an opportunity to serve instructors locally.

“How can we support a region, especially with teacher professional development so we can get the student outcomes we desire,” Starcher said. “And we know that, especially after COVID, professional development stopped at Pueblo. If we wanted professional development in the valley, we had to go to Pueblo.”

The grant also includes stipends for teacher leaders to plan, develop and deliver professional development to colleagues at a region-wide professional development event in January 2024.