Its Time To Teach: Steepletown Executive Director to Move On This June
Teacher with preschoolers at table

In August of 2022 I took on a role that I never would have anticipated, which was to manage the Early Learning Center, a preschool located on the southwest side of Grand Rapids.  I was willing to take on this work primarily to assure that Steepletown could use that space to further develop an apprenticeship training program for early childhood educators which Steepletown started in 2019.    And you might say I jumped in with both feet.  That fall I took an admin course at GRCC to meet the minimum requirements of licensing to be the ELC Director, and I started the FastTrack CDA Certification coursework at GRCC.  I learned a lot about early childhood development and education throughout that year at the ELC.   I also completed the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential last December.

Jen Barlage returned to the ELC at the beginning of this school year as the ELC Director.  This has allowed me to spend more of my time managing the Early Childhood Educator apprenticeship training, especially since Steepletown received a significant grant in February of 2023 from the Early Childhood Investment Corporation to further develop and replicate this training model.   The ECE apprenticeship has become a significant part of Steepletown’s overall work, and just recently was awarded a multi-year grant from the Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity to continue expanding the reach of this apprenticeship in underrepresented communities; see the Press Release here.

Related to this is an initiative launched last fall called the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative, or WMTC.  The Kent ISD along with the ISD’s of Ottawa and Muskegon Counties have launched this intiative to recruit and train new teachers.  There are three distinct training opportunities, one being a yearlong Residency Program for those with an existing BA who want to shift careers and become full-time teachers.  This program is being offered in partnership with GVSU and leads to earning a Teaching Certification.  I was accepted into this program and classes begin in May.   The goal of this program is for those completing it to be lead teachers in a classroom starting in the fall of 2025.   And so I am not officially retiring but stepping down as the Executive Director of Steepletown in order to eventually become a full-time teacher.    The Steepletown Board is currently working on a succession plan to assure that leadership is in place to continue  the mission and work of Steepletown.  

One of my favorite quotes is “become the change you want to see in the world.”  A few years ago at a community meeting I heard of the declining number of teachers and the challenges this has created.  At the same time, the growing understanding of brain development and the significance of early childhood education has led to universalizing preschool in Michigan and other states.  If our communities are going to meet the need for teachers, then strategies like the WMTC and the ECE apprenticeship are great resources to increase the number and diversity of qualified teachers.  I look forward to being a preschool teacher for at least the next ten years, and with God’s grace maybe longer.   If you ever have the opportunity to spend a day in a classroom with a bunch of 3 and 4 year old kiddos, you will better understand the motivation behind my decision.   In fact if you want, give Steepletown a call to learn how you can  join the ECE apprenticeship or the WMTC.

– Dick Bulkowski

Picture of Santiago Gayton

Santiago Gayton

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