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'We are a family': Golden Apple Scholars tour Decatur Public Schools 📚 ✏️🚸

'We are a family': Golden Apple Scholars tour Decatur Public Schools 📚 ✏️🚸

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DECATUR — Ready, set, recruit.

That was the focus Thursday by Decatur school district officials who hosted participants in the Golden Apple Scholars program.

The Chicago-based nonprofit prepares teachers by providing up to $23,000 for tuition, job placement assistance and one-on-one mentoring.​ ​In exchange, he or she agrees to teach five years in a school of need, one with high poverty rates or funding shortfalls.​

The program seeks to address a teacher shortage in the Decatur district, which mirrors issues at the state and national level. Illinois has as many as 1,800 open positions. Studies credit low pay, high stress and higher enrollments as reasons behind fewer entering the profession.

On Thursday, five scholars toured Decatur schools. They declined to be interviewed for this story.

Superintendent Paul Fregeau kicked off the morning at MacArthur High School with a luncheon and presentation.

“Your kids won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Fregeau said. “We are a family.”

Dennis Lab eighth-graders Robert Burries and Leona Woodland guided the group through the school and shared favorite experiences.


Decatur schools Superintendent Paul Fregeau speaks to Golden Apple scholars on Thursday at MacArthur High School in Decatur.

“You can go to the teachers with anything, more than just school stuff. It doesn’t have to be about education; it could be about what is going on at home,” said Woodland when asked by a staff member what her favorite part about Dennis is.

​Woodland was also featured in the district’s viral video, "I Choose You," which shows teachers describing a student who inspires him or her.​

During Illinois teacher shortage, Decatur and other districts turn to long-term substitutes

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Burries said he enjoys being able to show his expressive side.

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“We are allowed to be creative here,” he said. “They treat us like adult kids and we get to do things other kids don’t.”

They also toured Enterprise Elementary, Garfield Montessori School and French Academy.

Officials said the tours offered the opportunity to attract and retain prospective teachers. ​

District recruiter Jey Owens​ said their mission is to have the potential educators pictures themselves in Decatur.

“We want to make sure each of you feel like you have a place here,” Owens said. ​

Decatur in November had about 70 open teaching positions. The district announced earlier this week they would move some specialists — certified teachers who often have advanced training — into classroom roles. Officials the next day said they would hold off on their plans after talking to leaders of the teachers’ union.

The district also is undergoing a building reconfiguration called the BOLD facilities plan. The Dennis campus will acquire what is currently the French Academy building. The dual-campus will collectively be referred to as Dennis Lab School, but the two separate campuses could receive different names pending board approval. The current Dennis facility would be named "Mosaic Campus" and the French building would be named "Kaleidoscope Campus."

Scholars in the Golden Apple program are typically high school seniors and first- and second-year Illinois college students who have a passion for teaching.​

An additional $750,000 was added to the Illinois budget in the spring to bring on undergraduates not currently on the education track and professionals thinking about changing careers who have bachelor's degrees in high-need areas like special education, bilingual education or science, technology, engineering and math.

The new program, called Golden Apple Accelerators, will give candidates $30,000 stipends and place them in one-year residency program. The program will focus on downstate districts. Eastern Illinois University in Charleston is involved in the initiative.

“The Scholars program is great, but we need help now,” Golden Apple Foundation president Alan Mather said last month. “When we recruit high school seniors and college freshmen, that's six years before seeing them in a classroom, at best.”

Separately, Illinois lawmakers approved increasing the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 by 2023 to help fill jobs.

Fregeau on Thursday said the mission is to make Decatur stand out. It's an important mission, he said.

“You’re serving kids from all kinds of backgrounds," Fregeau​ said, "and you can make a difference here.”


Remember this? 21 photos of Decatur high school activities through the years


Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro


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