SOE News

From the dean: Making an impact on schools

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Bill McDiarmid

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From The Carolina SLATE: News from the School of Education, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fall 2009.

Some of you may have read my recent column in our online Carolina Slate responding to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s critique of ed schools. I argued that while ed schools, especially at research universities, must reassess and improve all our programs and intensify our outreach to schools, we are working hard to do our part. In addition to Secretary Duncan’s critique, an alumnus also challenged me recently to specify exactly what the Carolina School of Education is doing to help children in schools be successful.

These concerns are warranted. We face formidable challenges in staffing and supporting schools that effectively cultivate the development of our young across the state and from every social background. To these challenges, the School of Education brings an arsenal of ingenuity, experience and commitment.

Below is a sampling of the work we are doing. We want to do more and better, but we believe that we are making a difference in schools in multiple ways.

Our Research Triangle Schools Partnership (RTSP), directed by Harriet Boone, is working with Orange County Title I schools. The schools identify their needs and priorities, and School of Education faculty with matching interests and expertise participate in initiatives to address those needs. In one ongoing project, Susan Friel continues to work with Orange County teachers at the elementary and middle school levels to develop their teaching practices as they work with new mathematics curricula. In a second project, a literacy professional learning community has been developed at New Hope Elementary School: Mollie Lloyd has led a collaborative group of teachers in bolstering opportunities for English Language Learners. A third recent RTSP project is an arts integration initiative: Madeleine Grumet and her graduate students have been helping Central Elementary School teachers integrate arts experiences into the core curriculum of their classrooms.  

Instructional Consultation Teams (ICTs), led by Steve Knotek, are designed to cultivate a self-sustaining “culture of competence” at schools. In an ICT, teachers and other school personnel develop their skills in communication, collaborative problem solving, and behavioral and curriculum assessments. This program gives teachers a diagnostic assessment tool to help them meet the needs of children who might otherwise fall through the cracks. The work is especially useful in helping to reduce the achievement gap with African American children and in reducing the over-referral of African American children and English Language Learners for special education services. So far, Steve and his staff have created ICTs in 30 public elementary schools in 12 districts of North Carolina that either are in rural areas or have large populations of low-achieving minority students, and they are expanding to additional schools.

Madres para Niños (MpN), also led by Steve Knotek, is a project to narrow the achievement gap for young Latino immigrant children. A series of meetings is held with groups of Latina mothers to enhance their knowledge and skills so they can better navigate their children’s entry into school and support their children’s educational success. Over the next two years, the researchers plan to work with 22 groups of Latina mothers, serving a total of about 200 parents and their children.

Fenwick English has been working to improve the leadership of school systems. In Wake County, he has provided assistance in thinking about closing the achievement gap and has collaborated with senior-level staff, the superintendent's management team and the board on implementing a curriculum management audit. This blueprint will be implemented over the next several years to make the school system more focused, efficient and effective in serving its students.

This sampling of our outreach activities is by no means exhaustive. I hope, however, it demonstrates the range and character of our reach even as we are developing new partnerships and projects with P-12 schools. I will keep you abreast of these as they unfold. In the meantime, I wish all of you a happy and peaceful holiday season.