ETSU receives over $215,000 to bring teacher retention program to the Marshall Islands

Published 3:46 pm Thursday, December 9, 2021

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JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State University has received over $215,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services for an initiative known as “the Republic of the Marshall Islands Teacher Retention Project.” The grant proposal, written in part by Dr. Dawn A. Rowe, associate professor and interim chair to ETSU’s Educational Foundations and Special Education program, received nearly $1.25 million total in funding.

According to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Public School System (PSS), teachers with temporary and provisional licenses are leaving the profession at much higher rates compared to those with professional licenses. Many of the teachers who work in special education are amongst those with temporary or provisional licenses.

“In the Republic of the Marshall Islands (MH), their licensure process is a bit different from ours,” said Rowe. “When someone in the MH gets a degree in education, they tend to leave special education for general education or some other administrative position. Many educators do not currently have the capacity to teach special education, and this grant aims to change that.”

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The main goal of the grant includes facilitating an improved teacher workforce by creating a comprehensive retention plan for those seeking a career path in special education. The first year of the grant is allocated to development, and partners with the grant are currently collaborating with one another to conduct needs assessments.

“We have to be creative with how we collect data due to internet availability in the MH, and be mindful of some of the different challenges we need to work around,” said Rowe. “There are five islands, and twenty-nine atolls. Some of the outer communities rely on radio to report school attendance. Some school facilities don’t have bathrooms. While infrastructure is not something we can control, it’s one of many different things we need to take into consideration when determining how we can best support our teachers.”

Rowe’s responsibilities as a stakeholder with The Republic of the Marshall Islands Teacher Retention Project include the conceptual, administrative and fiscal leadership roles. Working in collaboration with the College of the Marshall Islands and the PSS, she will lay the foundation of professional development and assist in the overall design of not only the program, but the teacher coaching systems that emerge from it.

“My partners at the MH are some of the most incredible people I have ever worked with,” said Rowe. “They are also phenomenal at developing a plan and following through with the intended actions. This is crucial to realizing the full potential of this grant project. Regarding special education students, in their current work related to the State Systemic Improvement Plan, the MH PSS has improved the graduation rates from 20% to 92%, and those students are going out into competitive employment and postsecondary education. I can’t praise them enough.”

To learn more about The Republic of the Marshall Islands Teacher Retention Project and how ETSU is working to bring teacher education to the Marshall Islands, contact Rowe at or 423-439-7171.