Charter network creates own teacher pipeline for its alumni

Noble Street Charter School leaders want more of the network’s alumni teaching in its classrooms.

January 30, 2014

(Noble Charter School Network Website)

The Noble Network of Charter Schools wants more of its alumni to come back and teach in its classrooms.  

The charter school group has grown exponentially since its first campus opened in 1999. Currently, Noble runs 15 high schools in Chicago and plans to open two more this fall.

Noble Network CEO Michael Milkie said he wants to provide an opportunity for Noble’s roughly 3,500 alumni to come back to the communities where they grew up.

Today, Noble is announcing plans to partner with the New-York-based Relay Graduate School of Education. A former Noble principal, Mindy Sjoblom, will become the dean of the Chicago arm of Relay.

Relay is not a traditional graduate program and it is currently seeking recognition from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The program--started three years ago by a few charter school executives in New York City--emphasizes classroom practice and offers few courses in child development and educational theory.

It is the brainchild of Norman Atkins, founder of Uncommon Schools, a charter network in New York City. Atkins worked with leaders at KIPP and Achievement First to start the school. Initially called TeacherU, the program was part of the City University of New York’s Hunter College. Relay’s first class graduated in 2013.

Chicago Public Schools has several graduate programs that serve as pipelines into the city’s public schools, but Milkie said Noble saw an opportunity to connect specifically with it’s own alumni.

Alumni like Lamanda Silva, who graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 2010 and now teaches freshman algebra at Noble’s Muchin campus downtown.

“It was like continuing a relationship that never ended,” Silva said of her decision to come back and teach for Noble. She said having a familiarity with Noble’s culture helps her connect with students. Noble Street schools post high test scores, but also have strict discipline policies that have come under fire in recent years.

“I’m able to identify with my students,” Silva said. “I know that we have high expectations for our students and that’s something day one, when I interact with my students, that I let them know.”

Milkie said the new program aims to create a more diverse teaching staff at Noble schools. Last year, the network’s student population was 40 percent black, 55 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white.

In the first year, Milkie said, students will be paired up with a current Noble teacher and work in the classroom four days a week. They will attend graduate courses on Friday, as well as one Saturday a month. The second year, students will transition into a teaching position at a Noble campus.

It is unclear how much alumni teacher trainees will earn and how much they’ll have to pay for the graduate program. Noble spokeswoman Angela Montagna said students in the Noble-Relay program will get a stipend in the first year and a salary in the second; how much is still being determined.

Montagna said tuition for the Noble-Relay program is still being calculated. Relay’s website lists tuition at $35,000 for the two-year program starting in the 2013-14 school year in New York.

Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.