USCA Partners with Public Schools, Williston School District 29, Aiken Tech and Clemson on 'Call Me Mister' Program

Staff Report From Aiken CEO

Friday, June 15th, 2018

When looking at South Carolina teacher demographics in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12), an alarming disparity emerges between the number of white teachers in classrooms and their African-American colleagues.

While 42 percent of South Carolina's K-12 students are African-American, only 17 percent of the state's teachers are African-American. Just three percent of all African-American teachers in the Palmetto State are males, and only one percent of elementary grade teachers in South Carolina are African-American males. This data clearly illuminates the need for more African-American teachers, and specifically, more African-American male teachers in South Carolina schools.

To address this need, the Aiken County Public School District and Williston School District 29 have joined Aiken Technical College and the University of South Carolina Aiken in a partnership to launch the Call Me MiSTER (CMM) program in fall 2018. The Call Me MiSTER program is based at Clemson University and primarily recruits and prepares African-American male students for teaching at the elementary or middle school level. Upon college graduation, a fully certified teacher candidate from the local program will accept a teaching position with either Aiken County Public Schools or Williston School District 29.

The new Call Me MiSTER collaboration was announced during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Aiken County Board of Education earlier this year. All parties met this spring to sign a Letter of Understanding formally launching the program.

"Call Me MiSTER marketing materials already highlight young men who are graduates of Midland Valley High School. These young men are shining examples for the rest of the state, but in the past, they have had to leave Aiken County to participate in the program. Many of them have gone on to become high-flying principals and teachers in our state, and we know if they can excel in those locations, they can certainly excel here," commented Aiken County Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford.

"We certainly want to thank South Carolina School Boards Association President and District Three board member Wesley Hightower, whose work at the state and local level was integral to bringing the Call Me MiSTER program to Aiken County," he added.

"This is a great partnership and we are honored to be a part of it," stated interim Williston School District 29 Superintendent Dr. Everette Dean, Jr. "We share a critical need for teachers, and we look forward to working with each institution in identifying those individuals with unique potential who have also shown an interest in education. We want to encourage them to continue in that direction."

The new collaboration will serve as a pipeline to increase the number of certified African American male educators through the program's 2-year to 4-year transfer agreement. An identified cohort of five local high school seniors, including three from Aiken County Public Schools and two from Williston School District 29, will first matriculate from high school to Aiken Technical College. The students will enroll in a two-year university transfer program and upon graduating with an associate degree, will transfer to USC Aiken's teacher education program to earn a Bachelor's degree and be recommended for teacher certification.

"Aiken Technical College is proud to be a partner in the Call Me MiSTER program along with the Aiken County Public School District, Williston School District 29, USC Aiken and Clemson University," stated Dr. Forest E. Mahan, president of Aiken Technical College. "Our mission as a College is to provide educational and workforce development opportunities and this initiative aligns well with those goals. By partnering with this program, we will be able to provide African-American males with a great pathway to a career in teaching and making an impact in the world of education."

"We are excited to be a partner with the Call Me MiSTER program in Aiken County. The collaboration among USC Aiken, Aiken Technical College, Aiken County Public Schools and Williston School District 29 strengthens our commitment to provide students and their parents in our region the highest quality education possible by helping to address the critical shortage of African-American male teachers in our state," commented USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan. "In combination with USC Aiken's accredited undergraduate and graduate level education programs, the 'Call Me MiSTER' program will contribute to the talent pool of excellent teachers and future workforce for the CSRA and the state of South Carolina."

The selected cohort of qualified students will be offered tuition assistance, with three students subsidized by Aiken County Public School and two subsidized by Williston School District 29.

The Call Me MiSTER Program was created at Clemson University in 2000.

Upon graduation, fully certified "MiSTERs" have entered elementary or middle public school classrooms (preferably in the state's lowest performing schools) as role models and mentors committed not only to providing quality teaching and learning, but also to transforming communication and relationships with those they serve.

"It is a shared vision, we believe, which made this moment happen, a shared vision to address one of the critical challenges facing our state today - a shortage of teachers, and specifically African-American male teachers at the elementary level," stated Dr. Roy Jones, executive director of the Call Me MiSTER program at Clemson University.

"Since 2004, the Call Me MiSTER program has placed over 240 fully certified teachers into South Carolina classrooms," Jones added. "Not only has the program expanded across our state, but it has also resonated across the nation. This unique model recognizes that it takes more than one entity or one stakeholder to make this happen, and that developing teachers is in the best interest of the entire community. It is challenging work, but when has it not been challenging work? The shared vision we have here says education is a priority, and I have great confidence that this will work."

The new collaboration will focus on the following key strategies:

Develop a marketing and recruitment plan to identify and select the first two cohorts of five African-American males each year from high schools within Aiken County Public Schools and Williston School District 29;

Each Call Me MiSTER cohort participant will apply and sign a pledge to pursue a course of study leading to a teaching career and return to Aiken County Public Schools and Williston School District 29 to teach one year for every year in which they received tuition assistance from this initiative;

The collaboration will create a service learning experience for Call Me MiSTER cohort participants throughout each academic year term;

Upon successful completion of their freshman year, the Call Me MiSTER cohort will participate in the Clemson University Annual Summer Leadership Institute;

Upon successful completion of their sophomore year the Call Me MiSTER cohort will participate in a Clemson University Annual Summer Internship;

Upon graduation, and as fully certified teachers, the Call Me MiSTER cohort will be offered teaching positions with Aiken County Public Schools and Williston School District 29.

"This is another example of the educational institutions in this area working together on a common mission, this being to address our tremendous needs in regard to teacher staffing. Every effort we make to grow our own high-quality teachers is a step in the right direction," stated Alford.