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By Highlander Institute, in partnership with Newport Community School

As reports of teacher shortages continue to dominate education news, Highlander Institute and Newport Community School are pleased to announce a new partnership with the van Beuren Charitable Foundation (vBCF) and Newport Public Schools (NPS). The two-fold project seeks to build the capacity of NPS Paraprofessionals while also exploring the viability of a “Community Educator” strategy that would recruit and train interested community members to support emerging needs within Newport County schools. 

While 73% of school leaders said in a national survey from Education Week that staffing shortages were a problem at their schools last school year (August 2022), the impact is disproportionately felt by urban school communities. Pre-pandemic turnover rates were “70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color and nearly 50% higher for teachers in Title I schools, which serve more low-income families” (Darling-Hammond & Carver-Thomas, 2017). 

Highlander Institute’s research-based instructional equity training has been used across the state to train substitute teachers, mentors, pre-service educators, and teachers. This partnership provides an opportunity to expand training to the 90 paraprofessionals within NPS — in hopes of both empowering professionals in these critical roles, and reducing growing demands on current teachers. The Institute team will offer paraprofessionals over 50 hours of professional learning, including workshops, implementation discussions, lesson co-planning, coaching, and onsite learning walks. 

Newport Community School (NCS) will provide support as the project convener — a natural fit for the highly respected organization with a strong connection to the community and a robust network of relationships in place. As a full-service community school model, NCS has a long history of supporting academic success, personal responsibility, and economic self-sufficiency within vibrant Aquidneck Island communities. “The Newport Community School’s AIALC program has a proven track record of training highly successful paraprofessionals who go on to play pivotal roles in the classroom and influence student academic success,” shared Executive Director, Tracy L. Shea. “We look forward to collaborating to offer even more tools to new paraprofessionals and to expand our pipeline of applicants in order to assist in addressing a critical shortage in education today.”

“Newport Public Schools is excited about expanding our partnership with Newport Community School and adding Highlander Institute as a new partner,” stated Candace Andrade, Director of Student Services for Newport Public Schools. “With this grant, we will provide our employees with the supports they need to enhance the learning of our students and be successful in this rewarding occupation.”

Additionally, the project will convene and interview school and organizational leaders from across Newport County to better understand their pressing human capital challenges. This needs assessment will set the stage for developing new human capital innovations that leverage talented community members to meet evolving school needs.

“Teachers all over the state are struggling to keep up with the growing academic and social-emotional needs that students face as they emerge from COVID,” stated Shawn Rubin, Executive Director of Highlander Institute. “We have an exciting opportunity to activate local communities, like Newport, to alleviate the pressure on teachers and leaders through new, purpose-driven roles within our schools. In this moment, we can break the paradigm of who is and who is not an educator in our most historically marginalized communities. Local youth and families have deep funds of knowledge and lived experiences that can serve as catalysts for student engagement and academic success now and for generations to come.” 

About Highlander Institute

A non-profit organization based in Providence, RI, Highlander Institute builds the capacity of schools to improve learning outcomes and experiences. Our school change model combines culturally responsive and sustaining instructional practices, data protocols that center the student experience, and a change management process that elevates the voices of teachers and families. We work side-by-side with school teams, building on a foundation of trust, ongoing self-discovery, continuous learning and improvement, and  the infusion of joyful learning experiences that honor and celebrate all student identities. 

About Newport Community School

Founded in 2001 in partnership with the United Way and Newport Public Schools, the Newport Community School has had a thriving presence at Thompson Middle School and Rogers High School providing out-of-school time programs to students and families. In 2009, NCS broadened to include programming that provides access to wellness, mental health, and family support services. It now addresses inadequate family involvement, social and health services and links home, school and community. In 2010 the Aquidneck Island Adult Learning Center became a program of NCS. NCS is now a comprehensive provider of academic and social supports for youth and adult learners in Newport County. The organization has a track record of success, demonstrated by annual program evaluations and external program reviews. NCS is considered one of RI’s premiere school reform strategy models with meaningful effects in the community. 

About van Beuren Charitable Foundation

The van Beuren Charitable Foundation was established in 1986 by John A. “Archie” and Hope H. “Happy” van Beuren. Early conversations around the family kitchen table formed the principles that continue to guide vBCF today: encouraging family involvement, developing firsthand knowledge of the community, and operating with integrity, intelligence, and imagination. Having contributed over $90 million to the Newport region since its inception, the Foundation has emerged as a strategic partner to like-minded charitable organizations and remains committed to strengthening the community in its priority areas of interest.

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