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'Power Up Academy': Lancaster ISD launches innovative strategy to retain, recruit teachers

As many schools face the reality of a national teacher shortage, one school district in North Texas is among those working on innovative ways to stimulate its staff.

LANCASTER, Texas — As schools across the country face the reality of teacher shortages, some school districts are finding innovative ways to focus on retention, recruitment, and coaching.

Lancaster Independent School District has launched an initiative called "Power Up Academy." The unique program and its strategy is designed to provide a variety of resources to educators from all experience levels, in order to help them be most successful leaders in their classrooms.

A group of new teachers gathered in a classroom at Rolling Hills Elementary School on Friday. They were busy practicing lesson plans, as part of the campus initiative called "Excellence Academy." It’s a team and supportive setting that helps the teachers practice lesson plans with one another, before introducing them to students in class.

“We want to make sure that our students get what they need in the classroom,” said Dr. Cassandra Barker, deputy superintendent in Lancaster ISD.

That program is part of the Power Up Academy. Administrators describe it as a strategy to re-imagine education, while focusing on retention in a unique way.

“Grow your own in Lancaster means something very different than what it may mean in other districts,” said Barker.

The Power Up Academy includes teachers who are not yet certified, but have a heart for kids. They partner with newly certified teachers and veteran educators. They’re assigned mentors from the district office, and a variety of resources, as a strategy to ensure success.

“We want to make sure that they’re supported, because ultimately an investment in those individuals is an investment in our students,” said Barker. 

Support through Power Up Academy comes in multiple forms. Being mindful of mental health matters in among them. The teachers and staff are being offered weekly group check-ins called "Wellness Wednesdays." 

“We focus on stress. How to manage stress. How it’s important to eat healthy. Drink plenty of water. We put all of that into Wellness Wednesday, and it’s only 30 minutes,” explained Dr. Marcus Jackson, chief of Student Services. 

The innovative approach to recruiting, coaching and retention is done with purpose.

“Wellness Wednesday gives them an outlet. And Power Up, it takes what we are doing on the campus and spreads it across the district, so that all of our educators are empowered,” said Cherish Pipkins, principal of Rolling Hills Elementary. 

Administrators say the Power Up Academy is already showing some positive results across Lancaster ISD. 

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