Education college helps district and charter schools work together in fellows program
By Janel Shoun-Smith on 6/15/2012
Shared Practices Fellows
(District schools in bold.)
Gra-Mar Middle School
When it comes to district schools and charter schools, rarely do the two mix. In the highly politicized environment surrounding education, it is not often that proponents for district schools and charter schools can come together to share their successes and learned knowledge for the good of all.
But in the 2011-2012 school year, that is exactly what Lipscomb University’s College of Education (COE) accomplished, through a partnership with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator and the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
The Shared Practices Fellows Program, coordinated by the COE, brought together 13 teachers from both district and Nashville charter schools to work together to solve educational problems through shared best practices. District and charter teacher teams paired up to engage in school visits, discussion on intractable problems and to study a book on collaboration.
“Our goal was to create a professional learning community where teachers from both school models could freely discuss each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learn from each other,” said Candice McQueen, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education.
In her opening comments at the event, McQueen remarked: “In a variety of entrepreneurial education ventures across the nation, charter schools have given us the ability to incubate and try different educational models that often hold the potential to transform educational practices and create school reform. But we also know how rare it is to find collaboration between charters and non-charters in sharing best practices. The fellows program was designed to change that, and it has really opened the eyes of the participants to new ways to approach common problems.”
Each teacher team took on a specific problem, such as school climate and discipline, learning in a diverse environment, parent engagement or maintaining optimal learning environments. Through visiting each other’s schools, researching and discussing personal experiences, the fellows made recommendations for solving various problems.
Recommendations from the fellows included setting and maintaining consistent routines and procedures in the classroom, communicating high expectations to students, providing consistent communication to parents, implementing behavior support teams, providing strong professional development for teachers and fostering a sense of community within the school.
|The Shared Practices Fellows|
One teacher team decided to explore better assessment systems, because both were dissatisfied with the assessment system at their respective district and charter school, according to Keith Nikolaus, professor of education at Lipscomb and the coordinator for the Shared Practices Fellows Program. Each found an aspect of the other’s system they liked, and by blending the pieces they liked, created a hybrid system they felt would work better for both types of schools, he said.
“They chose some very relevant issues to explore,” Nikolaus said. “Problems like parent engagement are problems that everyone faces no matter the type of school under consideration.”
The COE recently shared the results of the Shared Fellows Program with a group of education-oriented chamber of commerce members at a breakfast co-sponsored with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The Shared Practices event featured a panel discussion with the fellows sharing their experiences in the program. In addition, the keynote address was given by speaker Todd Dickson, executive director of Summit Preparatory Charter High School in California and a senior fellow at the Tennessee Charter School Incubator as of July 2012.
Dickson, whose school was profiled in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” was recruited to come to Nashville by the Tennessee Incubator and Mayor Karl Dean to start a network of high-performing charter schools in 2014. In 2010, Newsweek magazine named Dickson’s Summit Prep in California as one of the top 10 transformational schools in the country.
Dickson told the audience that he made the move from the West Coast to the Third Coast because of Nashville’s great potential to become a national example of a collaborative, innovative education system. Nashville has great state, city and school district leadership in its corner, as well as a wealth of university and education-focused local resources and a spark of energy to feed success.
The state has already established the Achievement School District (ASD) with the mandate to move the bottom five percent of schools in Tennessee straight to the top 25 percent in five years. In pursuit of that goal, the ASD recently authorized seven proven charter management organizations to open nine new schools in Memphis and Nashville in the 2013-2014 school year and to open a total of 41 schools by the 2019-2020 school year.
The May 25 chamber event at the university was the second of two events in the Charter 101 series, developed by Lipscomb and the chamber. The first event was held in December and featured Rocketship CEO and co-founder John Danner. Rocketship is one of the charter school operators approved by the ASD to open schools in Nashville and Memphis.
In addition to the Shared Practices Fellowship program and the Charter 101 series, Lipscomb’s College of Education has been a partner with the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System for the past two years to provide weekly, on-site professional development for the teachers at Cameron Middle School, a downtown public middle school selected to transition into a charter school over a four-year period. The partnership is creating a nationally recognized body of research on embedded professional development and instructional coaching for PreK-12 schools and is drawing strong regional and national interest.
The COE hopes to share the results of the first Shared Practices Fellow Program over time with educators throughout Tennessee. As a next step, the fellows will share their work with all Metro-Nashville Public School principals in early fall.