College of Ed teams with school districts for professional development of teachers

Kay Caster
Kay Caster

What do teachers want?

To boost student learning. To improve school effectiveness. To advance their careers.

Professional development that is meaningful, relevant and sustainable facilitates that – and the NIU College of Education makes it as easy as possible to obtain.

Meet Kay Caster, who joined the college in June as assistant director of External Programs.

Caster’s specific mission is to bring the expertise and preparation of a state university to busy teachers trying to maintain a work-life balance while also earning critical advanced degrees, endorsements, credentials and approvals.

NIU focuses on forming cohorts customized to the needs and unique circumstances of districts, Caster says.

“We are your community partner in empowering educators with the knowledge and skills to improve their instructional practices and lead students to higher academic success,” she says.

“NIU offers programs in special education, innovative instructional technology, principalship and administration, literacy education, school counseling, physical education and more,” she adds. “Faculty are experts in their fields and coursework is based on the latest research and best practices. NIU has a reputation for exceptional quality in education, and that is why Illinois teachers and administrators are quite often NIU alums.”

Driving to DeKalb is usually unnecessary, a big plus for working adults.

Programs are offered online, face-to-face or in a hybrid format where students and faculty meet face-to-face a few times per semester while also participating online and communicating together (synchronous) or on their own (asynchronous).

Schedules are convenient, Caster says, and locations are near – or even in – school district facilities.

“If you have a full team of interested teachers, we can offer a professional development cohort in your district, at the school of your choice,” Caster says. “If you do not have enough teachers to fill a program cohort, we can build cohorts with you and your neighboring districts

Master’s degrees offered by the College of Education include Literacy Education (with a focus on Bilingual/ESL or Reading), Instructional Technology, Kinesiology and Physical Education, Educational Administration, Higher Education and Student Affairs, Early Childhood Education and Special Education.

Endorsements include English as a Second Language/Bilingual, Learning Behavior Specialist 1, Reading Specialist, Reading Teacher, Early Childhood Education, Library Information Specialist, Physical Education and Blind or Visually Impaired.

“All of the endorsement programs, with the addition of five or six more courses, can be offered as a complete master’s degree,” Caster says.

Value also is found is the four-course Special Education approval in Early Childhood, which enables teachers with a Professional Educators License in Early Childhood Education or Special Education (LBS1) to teach special education in pre-kindergarten.

Certificates of Graduate Study include Behavior Analyst, Adapted Physical Education and Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist for People with Visual Impairments.

Although funding for professional development is often challenging, Caster says NIU can help guide school districts in their planning and budgeting processes.

“One way that districts can afford for their teachers to attend these programs is through instructional waivers, which are benefits earned from teachers acting as cooperating teachers in supervising teacher candidates during clinical experiences and student teaching,” she says.

“However, often a more cost-effective approach is through a fixed-cost contractual agreement where districts use federal grant allocations for professional development. These federal grant funds include Title I Grants for Reading, Title II Grants for Teacher Professional Development, Title III Grants for English Language Learners and IDEA Grants for Special Education,” she adds. “Using these federal funds is an excellent way to achieve your school district’s targeted learning goals.”

Caster, who holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, brings expertise in recruitment, outreach engagement, policy guidance, grant management and legislative analysis.

She most recently served as program director of the Florida State University College of Education, where she administered a fully online principalship preparation program.

Before that, she worked as a policy consultant and grants program manager for the Florida Department of Education.

For more information, contact Caster at (815) 753-3005 or kcaster@niu.edu.

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