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A New Chapter for University-Urban High School Partnerships in Chicago

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At AACTE, we have made a priority of advocating for robust collaborations between university based educator preparation programs and PK-12 schools. After all, it is those schools in which our members' graduates will one day teach, counsel or lead. I have seen successes and failures in these partnerships. I've seen promise and adversity, hope and apprehension. Above all, though, I have seen an impressive commitment from educator preparation professionals and school leaders. In the face of budget cuts that leave such partnerships hanging by a thread, they have remained dedicated to the task at-hand, serving student learners the best way they can. I recently asked David Prasse, who serves as dean of Loyola University Chicago's School of Education, to explain more about a new partnership that has emerged between his program and a local urban high school. What he provides is an honest representation of the hard work that is really worth it.

-Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

As a politician, former Congressman, and former Chief of Staff for President Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's understandings and views of education were shaped around the historical stewardship of other Chicago public school leaders such as Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan, now the U.S. Secretary of Education. As mayor, his agenda includes leveraging partnerships between local universities and city schools.

On May 23, at a well-attended news conference, Mayor Emanuel announced a partnership between Loyola University Chicago and Nicholas Senn High School (Senn). Among those attending that news conference were the President and Provost of Loyola University, several Chicago Aldermen, Chicago Public School (CPS) officials, the mayor's office education team, faculty and administrators from Loyola's School of Education, and Senn High School's academic leadership team. While the announcement by the mayor affirmed the statutory authority the office of the mayor has for the CPS, it also affirmed Mayor Emanuel's personal and professional interest in the city's public education system.

The mayor had originally approached the leadership team of Loyola in October 2011 and asked that Loyola assume a major role in the operation of Senn High School. For perspective, in 2011-12, 72 percent of neighborhood students chose to attend a school other than Senn. Given the limited number of successful models of university-urban high school partnerships in this country, I, as dean of the School of Education, was skeptical, and my psychology background kept shaping this request in a Festinger cognitive dissonance context. Why would/should we want to do this? Is any good outcome possible?

The issues and challenges quickly emerged. Not surprisingly, our top University administrators' knowledge of partnership options was formed as much by the lay press as not. The mayor's office staff (and it was with the Mayor's office that three months of negotiation took place) desired a partnership that was structured more like a charter than not. The options available for structuring the relationship — a relationship that would ultimately need CPS Board of Education approval — were typical of national reform efforts (i.e. charter, contract, performance or restructuring). Each of these created challenges for Loyola as they rubbed against basic principles important to the University at large, as well as the professional education programs in the School of Education. For example, we did not want to create a school that would be off-limits to neighborhood students. Indeed, as a goal, we wanted a school that would be seen as a top choice for neighborhood students. With several professional preparation programs (teacher preparation, principal, superintendent, school psychology, school counseling) placing candidates in Chicago schools, the School of Education and University insisted on a structure that would not place the University at odds with the teachers' union.

The final and most important challenge was how and when to involve the faculty of the School of Education in the conversation and how and when to involve the administration of Senn. Remember, the entire initiative began at the level of the mayor and President of the University, with both parties agreeing, yes, let's do this. The teacher preparation program at Loyola has a long history of early and frequent clinical experiences in PK-12 settings. In addition, faculty members were well underway with a major redesign of the program that is a completely clinically-based preparation program. As a result, I suspected the faculty would see this as an excellent opportunity that would serve to enhance candidate preparation, faculty professional development, research opportunities, and eventually, improve the college and career readiness goals of Senn. That indeed was their reaction. Their investment in the conversation, shaping of the partnership, and planning for the future was genuine and enthusiastic. They too said, yes, let's do this.

No matter the structure of the partnership, we understood that the right building-level leadership had to be in place and we made that a condition of the partnership. With that determination made, it was time to reach out to the principal. To be sure, the School of Education made no claims on the "we know how to do this" stage. Rather, faculty and administration understood full well that our role was to be a partner in a collaboration that invested both parties in mutually agreed-upon outcomes, goals and strategies to get there.

Since Senn's leadership team had not asked for or sought a university partner before the opportunity was, if you will, foisted upon them, the first meeting could be characterized as tentative, cautious, and respectful. There was clear recognition on the part of both parties that "the match" was ours to make work.

As we look forward to the new school year, we have in place a collaborative partnership that focuses on developing a high-quality International Baccalaureate (IB) program for the geographic community served by Senn. It is a partnership forged on trust, common goals, an agreed-upon structure, and commitments from both sides. The faculty and teacher candidates will be present at Senn along with a full-time Senn/Loyola clinical faculty member devoted 100 percent to the partnership. Existing opportunities for Loyola's involvement beyond the School of Education are many, including Social Work, Communications, Fine and Performing Arts, Computer Science and Instructional Technologies, and Nursing. Data-based benchmarks are in place, evaluation protocols developed, and measurable outcomes determined. Time and data will help write the next chapter.

David P. Prasse, Ph.D., is dean of the School of Education at Loyola University Chicago.


Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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