September 30, 2013

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU’s Investment in VECA Gains National Attention

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University has been selected as the winner of the 2013 American Association of State Colleges and Universities Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award. The university previously won this award in 2004 and is now the only institution in the nation to be named a two-time winner.

Each year, the Christa McAuliffe award honors a teacher education program at a public college or university in the United States that is able to demonstrate its effectiveness in producing P-12 learning outcomes and explain how its programs were redesigned as a result of these P-12 learning outcomes.

It was VSU’s investment in the Valdosta Early College Academy that secured this year’s win. 

“Valdosta State University’s commitments to educational innovation and community engagement are embodied in VECA,” said Dr. William J. McKinney, president of VSU. “VECA’s success is a clear example of VSU’s commitment to be a national leader among region-serving comprehensive universities. This collaboration between VSU and Valdosta City Schools stands as a model of positive educational reform, and I congratulate Dean Gerber and everyone in the Dewar College of Education and Human Services for this well-deserved honor.” 

In 2008, VSU, especially the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, partnered with the Valdosta City School System to ensure that each and every child realizes his or her academic potential. They established the Valdosta Early College Academy and vowed to promote a school environment focused on high achievement and mutual respect, eliminate the achievement gap between black and white students, integrate technology as a seamless aspect of every academic subject, and reduce the dropout rate to zero.

Dr. Brian Gerber, interim dean of the VSU College of Education and Human Services, noted that the formation of VECA was a response to rather alarming and persistent data: Seventy percent of all students in the Valdosta City School System qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and even though the student population is 74 percent black and 17 percent white — the remaining 9 percent are Asian and Hispanic — only 50 percent of black students graduate from high school, compared to nearly 90 percent of white students.

During VECA’s first year, 36 sixth-grade students were admitted, and after just two years in the program, they demonstrated significantly higher scores on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in both social studies and language arts than a matched comparison group of similar students that remained in the regular Valdosta City School System classrooms. However, the students did not show significant gains in mathematics and science, which prompted VSU to make changes to its teacher education program, particularly in the middle grades area. This resulted in moving some teacher preparation classes from the VSU campus to VECA classrooms. Teacher candidates began spending a considerable amount of time at VECA with students and veteran educators, learning by doing rather than listening to lectures and taking notes.

“These teacher candidates are actively engaged in the classes and assist the teachers and students by providing individual, small-group, and large-group instruction. The instruction,” Gerber said, “may be remediation, acceleration, or simply presenting new, grade-appropriate content. VSU teacher candidates are also placed in VECA for their student teaching semester.”

Two years later, the VECA students demonstrated statistically significant higher academic achievement in all subject areas of the Georgia CRCT, including math and science. This year members of that first class of sixth graders began taking college-level courses at VSU.

“The results are unmistakable,” he added. “The Valdosta Early College Academy is having a positive impact on the academic achievement of their students.”

“The realization of the difference that teacher candidates could make on middle school students prompted the entire department to rethink the structure of the teacher preparation model they had been employing,” he shared. “As a result of these changes we are implementing, many more middle school students in our region will benefit from interactions with our middle school teacher candidates. Further, our candidates will be better prepared to meet the demands of their students when they graduate, become certified, and have classrooms of their own.” 

McKinney will accept the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award at the President-to-Presidents Lecture Luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as part of the AASCU annual meeting in Los Angeles, Calif. Gerber will be presented a follow-up award in March 2014 at the annual meeting of the Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities in Indianapolis, Ind. 

“The success of the early college program,” said E. Martin Roesch, superintendent of the Valdosta City School System, “is a direct result of the thriving relationship between Valdosta City Schools and Valdosta State University. We would like to congratulate Dr. Gerber and VSU on this prestigious recognition from AASCU.”

Today, VECA has roughly 250 sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-grade students, more than a dozen teachers, and a full-time principal, all housed in the former S.L. Mason Elementary School on Azalea Drive, about one-tenth of a mile from VSU’s College of Education and Human Services. A new class of 50 sixth graders is added each year, and by 2014, VECA will expand to include high school seniors.

Contact Dr. Brian Gerber at (229) 333-5353 or for more information.

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Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities.

The story above demonstrates VSU's commitment to meeting the following goals:

Goal 1: Recruit, retain, and graduate a quality, diverse student population and prepare students for roles as leaders in a global society.

Goal 3: Promote student, employee, alumni, retiree, and community engagement in our mission.

Goal 4: Foster an environment of creativity and scholarship.

Goal 5: Develop and enhance Valdosta State’s human and physical resources.

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