Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) is enlisting the help of hundreds of local college and university students to assist schools in the district most in need of extra support.
HCPS recently announced the launch of its innovative Transformational Network, part of an ongoing effort to boost the district’s most vulnerable students and schools. Through partnerships with the University of South Florida (USF), St. Leo University (SLU), the University of Tampa (UT) and Hillsborough Community College (HCC), the Transformational Network’s Fellowship program is recruiting, training and placing students of higher education in area grade schools.
Following an orientation and specialized training process, HCPS hires the paid Transformation Fellows as temporary employees of HCPS. They are then placed in schools according to need, with schools in the latter stages of a state turnaround process receiving top priority. Shaylia McRae, chief of transformation for HCPS, said the unique program would provide more focused learning experiences for students.
“We’re allocated teachers at a ratio of 22 to one,” said McRae. “But when you have students that have academic gaps – and of course, we have some academic loss due to Covid – we need more one-to-one or small group attention.”
McRae said some schools in the county have persistently underperformed for four or more years. Those schools, she added, are typically located in communities that are also in need of support. Instead of those “D” and “F” ranked schools individually reporting to regional superintendents, the district pools the schools together to take a systematic approach for transformation.
HCPS ranks the underperforming schools on a tiered list and places the Transformational Fellows accordingly. The first cohort of 14 area college students began in January, and that number has quickly grown to 54. McRae said the ultimate goal is 250 fellows spread throughout the county.
The fellows go through a one-day training period where they learn basics like the HCPS code of ethics and expectations before diving into programming and instructional strategies. HCPS also provides ongoing training throughout the year.
“We don’t expect them to come in teacher-ready,” said McRae. “But we do expect them to come in, in the mode of learning, and we’re going to teach them what we feel like they need to know to support the kids in the most effective way.”
As temporary employees of HCPS, the fellows earn $15 an hour and can work up to 25 hours per week. McRae explained the hours are during the traditional school day, so if the college students can manage their schedules around those times, it frees up their nights and weekends. In addition to a competitive wage, she said working with small groups of grade school students offers a change of pace from the hospitality or customer service industries.
McRae said there is also an additional benefit for the county. While the Transformational Fellowship program expects to attract education majors, it is also open to those seeking degrees in areas like science and mathematics. McRae hopes some of those students will realize the difference they are making in a child’s life and decide to become full-time HCPS teachers.
“Sometimes that’s a game-changer for people and their aspirations,” she said. “This allows us the opportunity to bring exposure to what the teaching profession is like and what it’s like to really have an impact on lives.”
The Transformational Network is unique to Hillsborough, and the county uses federal and state pandemic relief money to fund the program. While HCPS enjoys strong partnerships with USF, SLU, UT and HCC, the program welcomes students from any college, including those that attend online schools.
For any area college students interested in the Transformational Fellowship program, McRae said HCPS is always looking for more tutors and support staff. For more information, visit the website here.