McCracken-Ferro and Stewart stand together in Stewart’s classroom at Franklin High School. Photo by Maya Horten

Nearly half of all teachers leave the classroom within five years of beginning their career, and in schools serving families from a low-income background, the turnover rate is even higher. This leaves the most vulnerable students with the least experienced teachers. High turnover rates are largely caused by the overwhelming responsibilities new teachers face, ranging from tackling challenging classroom conflicts with students to finding the best strategy to implement new curriculum. The Hollyhock Fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Education attempts to offer much needed support. Founded in 2014, the program offers extensive professional development to early-career teachers from across the country, including some at Franklin.

Fellows must apply with two to three colleagues, have two to seven years teaching experience in science, math, history, or English, and come from a high school where at least 50% of the students qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch. The purpose of the program is to give young teachers the support they need in order to stay in the classroom, grow in their profession, and bring their accumulating expertise to their schools. Melissa Scheves, director of the Hollyhock program, explains: “Teachers leave the profession because they don’t feel empowered to do what’s needed for their students, and they don’t feel a sense of control over their own careers. We want to help fill those gaps.”

Franklin science teacher Matt Stewart first heard of Hollyhock while at an AP biology professional development program at Stanford. In the fall of 2015, he applied to the program with Erin McCracken Ferro (pictured above with Stewart) and Aimee Jo, and they were accepted later that school year. The teachers were required to commit to two more years of teaching at their high school, a two-week professional development program at Stanford for two consecutive summers, and virtual coaching throughout the school-year. During the two weeks on campus, they participated in workshops to learn and apply new teaching practices.

A major aspect of the Hollyhock Fellowship is bridging nationwide connections among early-career teachers, and this was something both McCracken Ferro and Stewart found to be one of the most beneficial facets of the program. “For someone who’s new to a career, sometimes when you’re trying out new things you have no idea if it’s awesome or ridiculous, and so having someone to listen—that just gets it—is huge,” explains McCracken Ferro.

Stewart describes how this “sounding board” benefits implementing new curriculum. “I can make small tweaks rather than abandoning a big idea if I didn’t do it quite right.”
The Fellowship is the only program in the United States focused on increasing the retention rate of new teachers and the support they receive. Its purpose is revolutionary and its success is undeniable as 84% of fellows plan to teach at least three more years upon completion of the program. The program is planning to expand after a five-million dollar donation from the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching. This will allow the program to support three new groups of teachers in the Hollyhock Fellowship as well as a project team to test a leadership development program for eight to ten alumni of the fellowship. More high-level professional development programs similar to the Hollyhock Fellowship would allow for more young teachers to get the support they need to stay in the classroom and promote the ideals of equity taught at Hollyhock. As McCracken Ferro says, “We really want all our kids to feel like they want to show up here, they want to be here, and that their presence is important in the classroom.”

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