From its inception in the 2006-2007 school year, the Gerstacker Fellowship Program has enabled Saginaw Valley State University to offer ninety four premier teachers and administrators across the State of Michigan a leadership development and international travel experience. That twelve month, monthly week-end professional development program was designed to "develop leadership skills, lift potential leaders to higher standards and expectations for their personal performance, and inspire them to think more creatively about their work and its possibilities". As successful as that one time endeavor had been, however, it became apparent that this initial leadership-based opportunity, to maximize its full potential, required a sustained and advanced professional development program if these teachers and administrators were to become the leadership cadre that is needed to improve the quality of education in our communities. Consequently, the Gerstacker Foundation in 2011 added one million dollars to its initial endowment to support the development and implementation of the Gerstacker Fellowship Program II.
All graduates of the Gerstacker Fellowship Program I are eligible to participate in the Gerstacker Fellowship Program II. That participation is voluntary and Fellows may avail themselves, as their schedules and interest permit, of each year's programs and an educational visit within the United States to a selected school district engaged in significant organizational and educational reform. More than two thirds of the Fellows have participated in the Gerstacker Fellowship Program II.
Four professional development programs are offered annually with two sessions in the Fall and two sessions in the Winter. The sessions are planned to engage issues relevant to a greater understanding of K-12 education both in terms of student achievement and organizational effectiveness, to study the importance of leadership and organizational change, and to enable Fellows to continue their quest to expand their vision and capability to improve the quality of education in their schools.
Each session is conducted on a week day evening from 4:30 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. An opening table talk session allows Fellows to discuss issues pertinent to their school district and their professional lives. The evening's topic is then introduced followed by dinner. The session following dinner concludes the program discussion. The Fall sessions are usually conducted in September and October with the Winter sessions conducted in February and March.
The program calendar for 2013-2014 is comprised of the following sessions:
Program 1. Tuesday, October 1, 2013. "Performance of a Lifetime". This session used the "art of performance" as a means to explore and practice crucial leadership capabilities: flexibility, courage, breaking from "scripts" and the creative skill of building with disparate ideas and styles. The session also included a discussion of "To Sell Is Human" by Daniel Pink.
Program 2. Tuesday, October 29, 2013. "One to One Learning Implementation With Technology". Presenter: Dennis Stockdale, Superintendent, Garrett-Keyser Community School District, Garrett, Indiana. Superintendent Stockdale was recognized by "Education Week" as Digital Access Superintendent of the Year. The session also incorporated concepts from "Inevitable Mass Customized Learning" by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey.
Program 3. Thursday, February 13, 2014. "Leadership in Times of Change". Frederick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. This session will also include a discussion with Dr. Hess related to the concepts he offered in his book "Cage-Busting Leadership".
Program 4. Thursday, March 14, 2014. "Educational Politics and Policy Status in Michigan". Craig Ruff, Education Advisor to the Governor of the State of Michigan. This session will address the role of politics in the development and implementation of education policy to include a discussion of current legislative initiatives concerning teacher evaluation and effectiveness.
Topics discussed in previous years included organizational development and change, entrepreneurship and innovative change, leading change with technology, and trends in international education. Presentations have been balanced between a study and discussion of educational issues relevant to improving student achievement and organizational change as well as the opportunity to visit with superintendents whose school districts offer lessons in how education can be improved in a community.
The annual educational travel experience enables ten Fellows to visit a school district engaged in significant endeavors to improve student achievement and organizational effectiveness. In 2012, Fellows visited the Denver Public Schools and in 2013, the Fellows visited the Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa, Florida. These visits enabled the Fellows to understand how a school district such as Denver was able to transform itself organizationally with significant advances in student achievement and how the Hillsborough Schools have evolved a teacher evaluation and professional development program to assess instructional practice and improve student success. A typical school visit includes a Sunday afternoon departure, visits on Monday and Tuesday with the superintendent, key program administrators, principals and teachers and a return on Tuesday evening.
In June of 2012, the Gerstacker Fellowship Program I international educational and culture travel experience included Chongqing, China. During that visit, a discussion emerged regarding the feasibility of developing and implementing an exchange program wherby teachers, students, and administrators from Chongqing would visit and be hosted by school districts in the Great Lakes Bay Region in Michigan and a reciprocal visit could occur by teachers, students, and administrators from those school districts to be hosted by their Chongqing counterparts.
That discussion led to the visit by administrators from Chongqing to the Great Lakes Bay Region in November of 2012. That visit culminated in a two year plan to create such an exchange program. That plan was approved by the respective Chongqing educational authority in a meeting with the Co-Directors of the Gerstacker Fellowship Program in October of 2013.
In October of 2014, ten teachers, five high school students, and two Chongqing education officials will visit and be hosted by three school districts within the Great Lakes Bay Region. Two kindergarten teachers and two elementary school teachers will be hosted by the Frankenmuth School District. Two middle school teachers, two high school teachers, and the five high school students will be hosted by the Bay City Schools. The two vocational teachers will be hosted by the Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center. In the Spring of 2015, a similar delegation of teachers, students, and administrators will travel to Chongqing for the reciprocal visit.
The exchange visit will include the opportunity to engage a better understanding of educational practices and cultural settings in both communities. An opportunity will be afforded in each visit to understand how instruction is prepared and delivered, how teacher and administrator evaluations occur, for teachers in each visit to teach class sessions, for students to experience student life, and for teachers, students, and administrators to experience American and Chinese culture and daily life.
It is anticipated that this exchange program will be expanded to include more school districts within Chongqing, the Great Lakes Bay Region and the State of Michigan. The international educational and travel experience of the Gerstacker Fellowship Program I has enabled the Fellows to learn that despite our living on separate sides of the world with different cultures that we share much more in common what we believe to be the purposes and ideals of education. This exchange program will serve to strengthen that appreciation as well as provide the opportunity for us to learn from each other how we can make a significant educational difference in our schools and communities.