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Under new leadership, Pitt School of Education expands pathways for Pa. teachers, early childhood

The Cathedral of Learning stands behind trees.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The University of Pittsburgh has named Eboni Zamani-Gallaher as the new dean of the School of Education.

Zamani-Gallaher is a professor of educational foundations and policy. She was initially tapped to serve as the school’s interim dean in August 2023.

Zamani-Gallaher came to the university in 2022 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she had overseen the Office for Community College Research and Leadership. She also currently serves as executive director of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges.

“We really want to move the needle in terms of what it is we can do to foster pathways where students are matriculating and moving into the profession,” Zamani-Gallaher told WESA, “but also a profession that values what they have to bring.”

Last month, alongside deans from several education colleges throughout Pennsylvania, Zamani-Gallaher authored an op-ed that urged state lawmakers to adequately fund student-teacher stipends.

Legislators allocated $10 million to the program — enough to fund roughly 700 student teachers. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency received about 4,000 online applications in the hours after the online portal opened.

“We know that there has been waning support and disinvestment in higher education, in particular, with funding and resources that would help to incentivize more people moving into a pipeline to enter education careers,” Zamani-Gallaher said.

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School districts across Pennsylvania reported 2,156 teacher vacancies as of October 2023, according to the education advocacy group Teach Plus. The state’s teacher attrition rate reached its highest point in the past decade during the 2022-2023 school year.

Zamani-Gallaher said the University of Pittsburgh is working to address that shortage by creating pathways into the teaching profession, including those that begin in high school. The program Genius, Joy and Love engages students of color from Pittsburgh Public Schools to encourage them to pursue a career in education.

Zamani-Gallaher said the university will also pilot partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to create post-baccalaureate opportunities in the education field, particularly for classroom teachers who want to move into school leadership roles.

In addition, the university is looking to lower barriers for non-traditional students interested in becoming educators. Zamani-Gallaher said that includes creating professional pathways into the early childhood teacher workforce. She said too often those are hard to access for learners age 25 and older.

“Often Black and brown women are doing center-based care, but don't have the mobility based on the structure of our programs — where much of the coursework is during the day, based around that so-called ‘traditional aged’ collegian,” Zamani-Gallaher explained.

The dean said the School of Education is in the early stages of a pilot initiative to address this gap, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute.

The School of Education recently hosted a day-long conference on pathways for community college students, who account for 40% of all Pennsylvania students enrolled in higher education.

Zamani-Gallaher said she hopes to continue to partner with community colleges like the Community College of Allegheny County and Butler County Community College as the School of Education seeks to attract new leaders in early childhood education.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.