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Voorhees University partnership receives $18.9 million grant to improve teaching and learning

Denmark, S.C. – Voorhees University and its partners have received a grant totaling $18.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare teachers to improve learning outcomes for students. The three-year grant, awarded under the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program, was announced in late September. 

The successful SEED proposal was a collaboration between the Voorhees University Center of Excellence for Educator Preparation, Gray Charter School, Youth Connection Charter School, The Institute for Organizational Coherence, KDR Global Education Solutions, The Center for Research & Mentoring of Black Male Students & Teachers at Bowie State University and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Voorhees proposed a project entitled Chicago SEED. 

“There is excellence among us at Voorhees University and among the ranks of accomplished educators worldwide,” said Voorhees President Ronnie Hopkins, Ph.D. “That excellence is demonstrated through the strategies we use to increase effectiveness in teaching and learning. I applaud my colleagues at Voorhees and all those partners who helped to secure this grant funding.” 

The Chicago SEED plan is designed to raise the academic achievement of high-need students. Improving teacher effectiveness, equipping them with skills to promote 21st-century learning and increasing the number of teachers who attain advanced credentials will enhance student success. SEED will support up to 705 credentialed teachers during the three-year grant period. Those teachers will use their skills to raise student achievement to eradicate persistent achievement gaps and ensure that students are career and college ready. 

“The ultimate aim of this grant is to develop a model for effective teaching using improvement science, competency-based learning and the work of renowned educator Marva Collins that can be replicated in various contexts,” said Damara Hightower Mitchell, Voorhees provost and executive director of the Center of Excellence for Educator Preparation and Innovation. “A few of the partner leaders, such as Verna Gray, who leads the Gray Charter School in Newark, N.J., and Dr. Thomas Maridada who is president of the Center for Strategic Leadership and Organizational Coherence, were trained and mentored by Mrs. Collins and are award-winning educators who have demonstrated astounding success and impact utilizing her strategies.”  

According to Hightower Mitchell, all of the partners’ values align. All have a deep commitment to preparing and developing educators who are committed to ensuring students have the educational experiences to help them reach the height of their capacity.  

The Voorhees Center of Excellence for Educator Preparation and Innovation was born out of Hopkins’ vision to increase access to effective educators for all learners. The SEED grant presents an opportunity for the center and partners to collaborate and leverage their work to advance student learning and success. 

“The new funding offers an opportunity for Voorhees University to examine the tools and approaches of extraordinarily effective educators and apply that learning to prepare the educators who work with us to meet the needs of each learner,” said Hightower Mitchell. 

The SEED program supports evidence-based practices that prioritize educators’ growth across the continuum of their careers. The Department of Education is working to strengthen the teacher pipeline and provide long-term investments in the teaching profession. 

“Voorhees has an opportunity to contribute to the national dialogue regarding how educators are prepared and supported,” Hightower Mitchell said. “Our team believes many traditional educational approaches are not serving those who need education most, so we want to innovate and create new paradigms.” 

Recently, there has been a lot of negativity regarding education in a post-COVID-19 state. A National Center for Education Statistics survey on public school experiences showed that 53 percent of all public schools reported feeling understaffed entering the 2022-23 school year. Sixty-nine percent reported too few candidates as the biggest challenge to hiring teachers. 

“For many students, education is their only hope for creating the kind of lives they desire and deserve. We need them to help create the kind of country and world we all desire, so losing hope is not an option for us,” said Hightower Mitchell. “There are educators who are artful at fostering impressive gains in student learning. We want to learn from them and support others in becoming impactful educators as well. This funding helps us to do just that.” 

Damara Hightower Mitchell

Dr. Damara Hightower Mitchell,

Provost and Executive Director of the Center of Excellence for Educator Preparation and Innovation

About Voorhees University

Voorhees University, founded by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright in 1897, is a private, coeducational institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the United Negro College Fund. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Its mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society, and an abiding faith in God. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Voorhees as a #1 best value, #3 in social mobility and #33 among regional colleges in the south in 2022-2023; and #26 among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, nationally. Additional information about Voorhees University can be found at www.voorhees.edu.


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