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#AFTVoices Pina Maggio: Lowell Teacher Academy Aims to Provide Educators with Opportunities for Professional Growth 

In order for educators to ensure the best experiences for students, they must continue to learn and develop as professionals. Educators across the country, especially in Massachusetts, continue to learn and develop the art of teaching by participating in courses and/or earning advanced degrees.  The Lowell Teacher Academy, an integral part of the Lowell Public Schools, provides many opportunities for educators to meet these demands.

The Lowell Teacher Academy (LTA) is the “brainchild” of the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL).   Paul Georges, UTL President, saw the need back in the early 90’s for a venue that would allow teachers to pursue excellence in their practice right here in Lowell at a reasonable cost.  Hence, the LTA was “born.”  Since that time, hundreds of teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, tutors, etc., have taken advantage of the LTA offerings. 
Pina Maggio, Director of the LTA, explains the purpose of the LTA is twofold:  To provide incoming teachers with a comprehensive Induction Program; and, to provide all staff the opportunity to attend workshops and enroll in courses that will enhance their teaching practice and skills.

The LTA Induction Program assigns new teachers in Lowell a mentor.  Mentor teachers are expected to support new hires in developing the interpersonal skills and knowledge to meet the needs of Lowell’s diverse student population.  New hires are required to attend workshops and seminars that enhance teaching and learning.

In addition, the LTA, in partnership with Fitchburg State University (FSU), offers a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Teaching Program (non-licensure), as well as a CAGS in Educational Leadership and Management.  Courses are taught by LPSD faculty who become FSU Adjunct Professors.   LTA/FSU Adjunct Professors include teachers, as well as administrators.   All graduate courses taken through the LTA/FSU partnership cost $295, which is reimbursable through the Tuition Reimbursement Allotment of $1,000 per school year.  

With the benefit of an AFT grant, the LTA was able to offer a series of Cultural workshops for staff.  Among the cultures included in the series were:  West Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, and Cambodia.    These were open to all staff in an effort to provide background knowledge and awareness of various cultures represented within the Lowell Public School District.  These workshops were highly regarded by all who attended.    

On the horizon there is discussion of a new offering of an Associate's Degree program that will ultimately be incorporated into a Bachelor’s Degree.  There is further discussion on offering an Autism Endorsement/Certificate Program as well.

In this era of teacher shortage, Lowell is fortunate to have a rich resource of potential candidates for teachers.  There are over 450 paraprofessionals working in Lowell, many of whom have Bachelor’s Degrees, with some having earned a Master’s Degree.  The LTA has been fortunate in being able to offer, through generous DESE grants, in partnership with Collaborative Education Services (CES) and FSU, the opportunities for some of the paraprofessionals to earn licensure status, i.e. ESL or Moderate Special Needs.  Furthermore, we have many additional paraprofessionals who wish to further their education by pursuing an Associate’s Degree and/or Bachelor’s Degree.  

The LTA perhaps may be considered a “hidden gem” within the Merrimack Valley community, as there does not appear to be any similar entity in other school districts.  The Lowell Teacher Academy is grateful for the support of the United Teachers of Lowell, the Lowell School Committee, and Central Office Administrators, without whom none of this would be possible.

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