How can UCSB help to build a pipeline of diverse, highly qualified teachers in Santa Barbara, where the cost of living is steep, and graduate school is often not an option for local students due to financial barriers? Six years ago, the Gevirtz School and local community funders set out to solve this thorny issue – establishing what is now the Community Fellows Initiative.

Here was the concept for the Community Fellows Initiative: first, recruit college graduates from underrepresented backgrounds who grew up locally to the Gevirtz School’s top-ranked Teacher Education Program (TEP). Next, provide full fellowships that allow teacher candidates to focus on learning to be exceptional teachers instead of worrying about paying for graduate school. Finally, after candidates have completed their teaching credential and M.Ed., facilitate their placement in local schools where they have built-in safety nets that ensure their success.

Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Program for Effective Access to College (PEAC) agreed to help the Gevirtz School build a recruitment pathway for local, highly-qualified students.  SB Unified’s Human Resources team agreed to offer each Community Fellow first-right-of-refusal on teaching jobs in the district after completing their credentials. In addition to gaining highly-skilled teachers who reflect the rich diversity of Santa Barbara classrooms, the School District knew from experience that if they hired teachers from within the local community, those teachers were much more likely to stay in the profession – and in Santa Barbara – where they will have unique insights into the lived experiences of their community’s youth.

“A program like the Community Fellows Initiative embodies the mission of the Gevirtz School,” says Jules Zimmer Dean Jeffrey Milem, “for it stresses the important role that education plays in helping to build a democratic society that is becoming increasingly diverse.”

With the partnerships in place, the Gevirtz School had to find a way to fund this new idea – and see if it would work.

Enter Jon Clark of the James S. Bower Foundation. If the Gevirtz School was able to recruit PEAC students to our TEP program, and SB Unified was willing to offer them a job after completing their credential, then Clark agreed that the Bower Foundation would fund fellowships for the first cohort of three Community Fellows. Dean Milem, Jon Clark, and the Superintendent of SB Unified shook hands and the Community Fellows Initiative was born.

Enter the Helen and Will Webster Foundation. When UCSB Trustee Claudia Webster ('75) and her husband Alec ('76) heard about the initiative, they immediately agreed to help expand the initiative by donating one fellowship, and agreeing to match funding for another fellow dollar-for-dollar. This match challenge allowed the Gevirtz School to mobilize additional alumni and school supporters to fortify ongoing funding for a multi-year pilot of the Community Fellows concept.

The initiative was a success. After five years, the Gevirtz School had successfully recruited and graduated 10 Community Fellows – every one of them offered teaching jobs at schools within SB Unified. In fact, one Community Fellow, Elsy Mora, went on to be honored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office as one of the County’s Distinguished New Educators of the Year in 2022. This year, the Teacher Education Program is supporting two more Community Fellows working on their teaching credentials.

With the overwhelming success of the Community Fellows Initiative, it was clear that it was time to transition from the pilot stage into a flagship endeavor. With this vision in mind, the Webster Foundation partnered with the Gevirtz School and UCSB’s Graduate Division to invest in an endowed, permanent Community Fellows Fund. The Webster Foundation pledged $1,000,000 in matching funds towards the effort, with Graduate Division Interim Dean Lila Rupp guaranteeing $40,000 each year in fellowship awards until the match is met.

To date, through the visionary support of the Webster Foundation, the Bower Foundation, and an anonymous community foundation, the Gevirtz School has already received commitments for $1,300,000 toward the $2,000,000 funding goal for 2023. Additionally, the next $1,000,000 in gifts to the Community Fellows Fund will be matched dollar-for-dollar.

“This support for our TEP candidates is crucial,” says Director of TEP Victoria Harvey. “Not only does this program alleviate the financial burden for the candidates who need it most, but it also serves the broader Santa Barbara community. We know from research that teachers who teach in the communities they were raised in stay in the profession longer and are better equipped to serve their students. By funding our Community Fellows, we are creating pathways for the next generation of highly prepared teachers to remain in the profession.”

The Community Fellows Initiative is a shining example of what can be done when an institution of higher education, a local community, and generous funding partners can come together to address the pressing issues in education that will shape the next generation of teachers, and the students whose lives they will impact. Now a proven framework for success, the Community Fellows model has the potential to expand state and nationwide, to build the teacher workforce and even grow to include school psychologists, healthcare professionals, and beyond.

the 2023 Community Fellows at the 2023 Fellowship Breakfast

At the 2023 Fellowship Breakfast (l-r): Jon Clark and Patricia Madrigal of the Bower Foundation; the three 2022-23 Community Fellows, Adriana Trujillo, Haidee Jimenez, Marissa Santizo; Lynne Sheffield, Assistant Superintendent, Secondary Education, SBUSD, Gaby Cabrera, School Counselor, SBUSD and Albert Martinez, PEAC Program Supervisor