If life were a fairy tale, this would be a marriage made in Haven. New Haven, Connecticut.
In a fairy-tale world, the story would be simple. Drury, the dashing prince of educational reform, aided by his patron King Yale, would sweep the princess of Springfield Public Schools off her feet, free her from the clutches of the dragons of parental apathy, poor achievement and discipline problems, and lead her through the haunted forest to freedom. Sharing a kiss in the setting sun, all would live happily ever after.
Life is not a fairy tale, and this is not the 12th century. The princess had already taken great strides in breaking free from her captors before the prince came calling. Instead of a chivalrous courtship, the prince and princess formed a productive partnership. But it's still a great story. Settle back, now.
This particular tale begins with a sabbatical. The concept is linguistically linked to the ancient Hebrew word shabat, describing a regularly occurring period of rest. Drury education professor Jayne White, Ph.D., planned to spend her most recent sabbatical studying how colleges of teacher education can improve the way children are educated. Little did she realize, however, that her "shabat-itical" would be anything but restful. "During the fall of 1997," she says, "one part of this sabbatical was spent at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where I served as a visiting faculty fellow at the Yale Child Study Center. My major focus was the School Development Program [SDP], an intervention program designed to provide schools with the organizing frameworks to engage every concerned adult in the collaborative decision-making processes that support child growth and development."
White returned to Drury with a goal: strengthen an existing partnership between Springfield Public Schools and Drury by bringing Dr. James Comer's School Development Program into the mix.
Adopting the program took some time. Both Springfield Public Schools and Drury had to find funding to make the program work. A member of the school board publicly expressed his opposition to the partnership. But most people recognized the likely benefits of the Comer process, and overcame the obstacles. Grants and funds supported the program, and the school board eventually voiced its unanimous approval.
While the road through the haunted forest was now straighter and smoother, the long trip had just begun. The Comer model became an extension of the developmental school collaboration already existing between Drury and Boyd/Berry Elementary School. Strengthening and continuing this relationship centered on three important steps: formalizing the partnership with Yale University's School Development Program, hiring a coordinator for the school development partnership, and expanding the partnership to include Pipkin Middle School.
Yale's reputation and support for the Comer project helped earn acceptance during those early days. In February 1999, a team of 17 faculty members and parents from Boyd/Berry Elementary and Pipkin Middle School and faculty from Drury attended a week-long training session at Yale. "The opportunity for public school teachers, parents and Drury faculty members to be on the campus of Yale University and learn strategies for strengthening local schools was powerful," says Dr. Dan Beach, director of Drury's School of Education and Child Development. Dr. Sharri Harwick, principal at Pipkin, echoed that sentiment. "My experience in New Haven was incredible," she later wrote.
As Boyd/Berry Elementary teachers and Drury teacher education students continued working together for the benefit of the children, amazing things began to happen. Achievement test scores improved, discipline problems decreased and both the faculty and parents started to see the school's value. The remarkable success of the Comer process, combined with other coordinated partnership efforts, made expanding the program to include Pipkin Middle School seem like a natural progression. "It is essential that secondary education majors [at Drury] have the same benefits of the partnership," said Beach in a July 1998 memo. "We seek to create a partnership with Pipkin Middle School and to concentrate our secondary level teacher aiding and subject area methods courses at Pipkin."
The partnership found a willing home at Pipkin. A fall 2001 report describing educational partnerships at Pipkin indicates that their faculty "feel that the SDP complements Pipkin's mission as well as the Title I and Caring Community initiatives already in place. Drury University extends Pipkin teachers the opportunity to receive tuition remission for their work on a master's degree in education. This has allowed Pipkin to easily attract and hire competent and motivated teachers - a key to increases in achievement outcomes."
Emerging from the forest, the partners are feeling the warmth of success. In 2000, Central High School joined the partnership; key elements of the Comer process are in place. A survey by Yale University has identified some of the issues pivotal to transforming the school environment and encouraging students to dream of - and construct - a successful future.
What started as a collaboration between Drury and one Springfield elementary school to improve field experiences for pre-service teachers has become a much deeper relationship. "Before you know it," says Beach, "a more effective teacher education program is operating in a manner which adds value to the lives of children in neighborhood schools."
As our tale draws to a close, we can not yet say all "lived happily ever after." But the princess is out of the dungeon. The partnership continues to provide excellent opportunities for pre-service teachers, a solid volunteer base for the schools, graduate education for the public school teachers and a myriad of other benefits, both to Drury and to Springfield Public Schools - kisses shared in the glow of a setting sun. The greatest good, however, comes in the positive impact on the lives of children. Perhaps, this project will help them live happily every after.