RWU and Providence Public Schools Partner on Innovative Approach to Growing More ESL Teachers in RI

Providence Public Schools and Roger Williams University announce first-in-Rhode Island workforce collaboration

RWU Education Professor Kelly Donnell and Providence Schools Superintendent Chris Maher announce the partnership at a news conference.
RWU Education Professor Kelly Donnell and Providence Schools Superintendent Chris Maher announce the partnership at a news conference.
Public Affairs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Roger Williams University and Providence Public Schools are launching an innovative program designed to increase the number of certified English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) teachers in the city and the state.

Recently approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the program will allow practicing teachers to gain ESL competencies while on the job. This alternative to traditional certification programs will greatly reduce the cost and the time commitment for existing teachers to become ESL certified.

The certification program combines elements of a summer intensive with competency-based learning modules that can be completed in a single year. The cost of enrollment – $3,500 – is significantly less expensive than both traditional and online ESL teacher certification programs now offered in Rhode Island. The program is expected to launch this summer and serve up to 100 teachers.

Providence Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Maher underscored the growing need for ESL-certified teachers, stating, “Six years ago, fewer than one in five Providence Public School students qualified as ESL. That ratio has changed to one in four students, and we anticipate it increasing to one in three in the near future. We need more educators with the knowledge and tools necessary to meet the language and academic needs of English learners.”

Of the more than 2,000 teachers now employed with the school district, 372 hold ESL certifications.

“I could not be more excited to have partnered with PPSD on this important and innovative program,” said Roger Williams University Dean of Continuing Studies Jamie Scurry, who described the program as “a job embedded, outcomes/performance-driven program that works with the demands of a teacher's classrooms and life.” She added, “The learning is contextualized and guided by expert coaches. In fact, the cohorts create a powerful learning community that is carried well beyond the program.” 

The alternative program starts in the summer, with one week of intensive online learning and two weeks of classroom time. Participating teachers are educated in small learning communities of peers, led by an instructor. During the school year, the teachers continue to complete modules that relate to required ESL teaching competencies.

Depending on their existing experience and knowledge base, if teachers are able to demonstrate that they meet or exceed a competency standard, they may waiver certain program elements. Teachers who have already mastered particular competencies also serve as real-time resources and models for their other learning community members.

Last year, Chief of Human Capital for Providence Public Schools Jennifer Lepre approached Roger Williams University about partnering on an alternative ESL-certification program. Lepre said, “Providence Public School District has the largest need in the state for ESL-certified educators. This collaboration with Roger Williams University School of Continuing Studies is an important workforce development strategy for the district, as it will help use grow our own ESL teacher pipeline.”

Scurry affirmed the value of the collaboration, stating, “One of the goals of the School of Continuing Studies is to link arms with partners and create high quality, affordable, flexible programs that build off our expertise to meet community, student and organizational needs. Our newly RIDE-approved, competency-based English Language Learner add-on teacher certification is the perfect example of this goal in action.”

Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Ken Wagner added, “Rhode Island classrooms reflect the rich diversity of our state, with a growing number of English learners. We must be equipped to serve and support these students, and I’m glad to see this partnership between Roger Williams and Providence Public Schools result in an innovative approach to meeting a growing need in our schools.”

Educators who are interested in the program may contact Roger Williams University School of Continuing Studies at (401) 254-5743 for more information.