Teachers in the Reach program are part of a "cohort" or team of 10 or 12 students who spend the entire two years of the program together.
Each of the 30 students who are in Reach's inaugural class meet with the cohort for three hours a week.
"Being a new teacher is lonely work," Tompkins said. "There are days when all of us say, `I don't want to do this anymore.' But in a cohort, I know people are counting on me to show up."
Academic research seems to support Reach's approach.
Teachers from six Georgia school districts surveyed for a study published in the May 2005 issue of Educational Leadership said the most effective strategies for helping new teachers were giving them the opportunity to observe other teachers, work with mentors, meet and make plans with other teachers and receive plenty of feedback.
Likewise, a study of existing alternative certification programs (not including Reach), to be published next year in Teachers College Record, suggests that effective programs include a collegial atmosphere and "trained mentors who have the time and resources to plan lessons with candidates."
Another important factor, the report states, is that new teachers are trained "in schools with strong leadership."
According to Tompkins, Reach has "networked" all eight school principals into active program participation, and is developing a "mentor coaching academy" for experienced teachers and a master's degree program.
"I want to be sure that we have a place for them when they want to take more responsibilities and go into administration," said Dennis Chaconas, a 35-year veteran of public education reform who works with the school principals and is helping to develop the mentor and master's programs.
Thus, said Chaconas, training new administrators and coaches is "the next step" for Reach.
"Good principals and good programs make and keep great teachers," he said.
Denise Caruso is executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, a research organization that studies collaborative problem-solving.