“We’re Always Striving”: Deep Dive in Five with Heather Lattimer

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Featured, Leadership

Heather Lattimer is not afraid of big ideas. As dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education and interim provost of undergraduate education at San José State, Lattimer embraces not just the vocabulary of social change, but also the collaborative efforts needed to make big ideas come to life. 

Heather Lattimer, dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education and interim vice provost of undergraduate education at SJSU.

Heather Lattimer, dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education and interim vice provost of undergraduate education at SJSU.

A lifelong educator who will be honored at the YWCA Golden Gate SiIicon Valley’s Tribute to Women Awards in May, Lattimer believes it is critical that students, faculty, alumni, staff and community partners understand that the Lurie College does more than embrace systematic and intentional change: The school of education actively advocates for transformative justice.

What does that look like? In this Deep Dive in Five, Lattimer shares a few examples of how the college is attracting, training and retaining next-generation educators. We began by talking about an event from the previous weekend, a unique weekend storytelling workshop offered in partnership with The Moth: Storytelling, a nonprofit vehicle for live storytelling events told onstage without notes. 

This story has been edited for length and clarity.

How do programs like The Moth storytelling workshop for students, faculty, alumni and staff represent your greater version for the Lurie College?

Heather Lattimer (HL): Storytelling is a part of community and coalition building and workshops like these help educators share their truths in a way that will resonate with a range of different audiences.

Because that’s the reality of the work of our educators today — educators writ large, including faculty, staff, alumni and students: We need to not only do the core work written into our job descriptions, but also to be ambassadors for our work with parents, students, community leaders, policymakers and politicians and the media at times. Storytelling workshops like The Moth are one example of how we can support our students, faculty, staff and alumni in sharing their own stories, which can help them serve as role models in the classroom and beyond.

How has the Lurie College incorporated diversity, equity and inclusion into its mission?

HL: Through our collaborative strategic planning process, which included students, alumni, staff and faculty, we established four tenets that have guided our work: We are interdisciplinary, culturally sustaining, community engaged and holistic. Over the past five years, we have grounded our work in these principles, working collaboratively to grow programs and build initiatives such as ourour Early Childhood Institute, Healthy Development Community Clinic, and Institute of Emancipatory Education that put these priorities into practice.

We’ve worked hard to grow enrollments and strengthen diversity in our programs. Over the last five years, for example, we’ve seen a 132% increase in our Teacher Education department; that includes a 156% increase in our Asian American student population, and a 225% increase in our Latinx-identifying student population. Our bilingual program, led by Dr. Eduardo Muñoz-Muñoz,  has increased six-fold. We launched a first-of-its-kind Ethnic Studies teacher residency program, led by faculty members Luis Poza, Tiffani Marie, Wanda Watson and Marcos Pizarro. And we’ve just announced a new Male Educators of Color initiative. 

As a college community, we’ve grappled with the idea of striving to be an emancipatory program — that is, are we creating equitable access to education? What does that look like and how does that impact our policies and practices? Under the leadership of Communicative Disorders and Sciences department chair Nidhi Mahendra, we eliminated requirements like the GRE (graduate admission exam) and reduced the number of recommendation letters needed for admission to our speech language pathology program. We’ve examined the literature we’re using in our classes and engaged in deep, faculty-led conversations about teaching and assessment practices that are truly inclusive.

We’re not done, either. We’re always striving.

Sometimes students are discouraged from pursuing careers as educators because they are afraid to take on more debt than they can repay. How can institutions like the Lurie College incentivize the pathway to careers in education?

HL: Over the past five years our faculty have worked to offer more options to access our programs, including integrated teacher education programs (ITEP) for undergraduates, Spartan Accelerated Graduate Education (SAGE) Programs, K16 pathway programs that partner with high schools and community colleges, and intensive graduate programs that allow students to earn a master’s and credential in as little as 12 months. 

We have also strengthened our outreach and grown our scholarship funding. We offer programs like the Celebration of Future Educators that offer K-12 teachers, community college and SJSU professors the chance to nominate students they think would be great educators. We honor and celebrate them by guaranteeing a $1,000 scholarship if they choose to pursue a credential at SJSU at some point. Over the past five years, we’ve already had close to 100 people cash in on this opportunity.

We also support school districts in getting funding for teacher residency programs. We have four different district-based residency programs that are focused on multiple subject credentials, bilingual education, special education, transitional kindergarten (TK), as well as our Ethnic Studies residency program. The teacher residency programs offer stipends and cover students’ tuition.

We’ve also supported school districts to access classified employee grants that allow paraprofessionals to complete their bachelor’s degrees and go on to earn teaching credentials. We know that classified employees — staff members who work at schools, districts or county offices of education as classroom aides and after school support providers — are often the backbone of our communities. They live in the communities where they are working. They send their own children to the schools where they work, and they have incredible expertise and knowledge about their students and communities.  

What do you enjoy about your work?

HL: I came to the CSU system, and to San José State in particular, because of the equity and access focus. I started out as a high school and middle school teacher, working in Title I schools with students who would be the first in their families to go to college. 

Education can be a powerful tool for equity. It can be a powerful means to pursue justice and build a more just society. The Cal State universities need to be a critical part of that conversation for individuals and communities in order for our state to fulfill its purpose in terms of equity and justice, as well as in terms of our democratic society and our economy.

The other reason I love working here is that we have amazing people. I knew that before I got here, but it is continually reinforced to me every day. We have faculty and staff who choose to be part of our community. We have community partners who are really excited about working with us and who are doing amazing things. It’s an honor to work alongside them. And one of my great joys is connecting people from different areas and providing resources to support their work. I love it when I see people doing amazing things and then I realize, “Think how brilliant it would be if you worked together.”

What’s on the horizon for the Lurie College?

HL: On April 25, we are hosting the annual Celebration of Future Educators, where teachers have nominated students from kindergarten through community college as great future educators. On April 26, we’re partnering with the SJSU Career Center to offer an event for high schoolers and community college students called Exploring Careers in Education, Health and Communities

The Celebration of Alumni Excellence on April 27 will feature special education teacher Claudia Figueroa, ’12 Health Science, ’19 Special Education credential; education specialist Monica Gonzalez, ’15 Child and Adolescent Development, ’20 MA Special Education; and child development center program director Tim Harper, ’24 EdD, ’09 MA Special Education, ’07 Special Education credential; and equity leader April Mouton, ’08 MA Educational Counseling, ’05 Teaching Credential. 

Learn more about the Connie L. Lurie College of Education.