Dr. Janice Pattillo accepts the Texas Higher Education Star Award.

An online teacher certification program offered by Stephen F. Austin State University received the prestigious Texas Higher Education Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in Austin this week.

The James I. Perkins College of Education at SFA began offering the online completer program for teacher certification for early childhood education through grade 4 in 2005 in partnership with 22 Texas community colleges. More than 100 candidates have since graduated from the program, which has been expanded to offer teacher certification through sixth grade. Currently, more than 160 students are in various stages of completing their online bachelor's degree and teacher certification requirements.

"The faculty and staff in the Department of Elementary Education are to be congratulated and commended for their innovative approach in developing this program," said Dr. John Jacobson, dean of the college.

The award-winning program is designed to alleviate teacher shortages that exist, especially in rural and urban areas. It allows instructional aides working in Texas public schools to earn an Associate of Arts in Teaching at a participating community college and then seamlessly transfer to SFA to complete an online Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with teacher certification. Scholarships are available to help candidates cover the cost of tuition.

"This innovative program gives teacher education candidates the opportunity to complete both a degree and earn Texas teacher certification while remaining in the schools and classrooms where they work as paraprofessionals," Jacobson said. "These online education candidates come into the program with a wealth of life experience and background in elementary education, yet most cannot commute to a four-year university due to work and/or family circumstances."

The program utilizes Web camera technology to allow SFA faculty members to observe teacher candidates as they deliver instruction in the classrooms where they are working, and Jacobson said the immediate feedback that is provided with this method has resulted in improved supervision and teaching.

The Texas Higher Education Star Award, established in 2001, recognizes public and independent institutions of higher education; public and private schools, and school districts; and organizations, groups, and individuals for their exceptional contributions toward one or more of the goals of Closing the Gaps by 2015, the Texas higher education plan adopted by the Coordinating Board in October 2000. The plan establishes four goals - to close the gaps in student participation, student success, academic excellence and research.

SFA's program was one of six higher-education initiatives honored during the ceremony, which was attended by Dr. Janice Pattillo, chair of the Department of Elementary Education; Susan Barber, coordinator of the EC-4 Online Completer Program; Paula Griffin, project coordinator for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education; SFA regents Carlos Amaral of Plano, James Dickerson of New Braunfels, and Bob Garrett of Tyler; and Dr. Baker Pattillo, SFA president.

"This award is especially meaningful to us as we prepare to open the Early Childhood Research Center in 2009," Baker Pattillo said. "As the second Star Award the university has received, this commendation from the Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that the faculty and staff of SFA are deeply aware of the needs of university students, and that our programs are constantly being fine-tuned to meet those needs."

The Academic Assistance and Resource Center at SFA received a Star Award in 2006 for the tutoring and supplemental instruction program it provides to students who want to improve academically.

More than 85 applications were submitted for Star Awards in 2008, and award recipients included Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Brownsville, The University of Texas at El Paso, and the University of North Texas.

For more information about traditional and online teacher preparation programs offered at SFA, visit http://www.sfasu.edu/education/.