SOE News

From the dean

Focusing our outreach

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Bill McDiarmid

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The School of Education has a long history of outreach – helping educators, school leaders and students build stronger learning communities.

We’ve taken steps within the School to better coordinate and to strengthen our outreach efforts.

These efforts come at a time when the School, as with most other public service organizations, is facing major budget reductions. The leadership at Carolina has tasked deans with making cuts in ways that are least harmful to the academic programs. At the same time, policymakers and the public expect the School of Education to continue helping practicing educators improve opportunities to learn for students in the P-12 system

We are fortunate in having resources to help us in this task – specifically LEARN NC, the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence and the Research Triangle Schools Partnership.

LEARN NC, created in 1997, has been an essential provider of support and content to both P-12 students and educators. Both the UNC General Administration and the N.C. Department of Instruction employed LEARN NC to make available online materials and information for students and educators across the state. After the N.C. Virtual Public School was created in 2006, LEARN NC focused its efforts to support educators, although it continued to provide some content – such as a digital North Carolina history textbook and Chinese language materials – for students. Although SOE faculty and graduate students sometimes collaborate with LEARN NC on developing content, the organization took much of its direction from the needs that external policymakers and stakeholders identified.

We are currently in the process of reorganizing and refocusing LEARN NC. This is in part a response to pressure from the UNC-Chapel Hill leadership to consolidate support functions, eliminate duplication, and reduce administrative layers. More importantly, LEARN NC represents a very valuable asset for the SOE to support educators across the state with research-based resources. As an advocate for the School who understands the value that our faculty’s research and research-validated interventions represent, I want to capitalize on any resources available to reach out to our P-12 colleagues who are currently under intense pressure to improve student-learning results at the same time they too are facing unprecedented budget cuts.

Cheryl Mason Bolick, associate professor of Educational Technology and Social Studies Education, recently agreed to become the School’s first Director of Research and Development for Outreach. Her prior work on studying digital libraries, integrating technology into social studies teaching, and researching technology in pre- and in-service programs qualifies her to help LEARN NC continue to develop and evolve. Melissa Thibault, who had directed LEARN NC since 2008, left the organization in November to become vice chancellor for distance education and extended programs at the N.C. School of Mathematics and Science.

In addition to engaging SOE faculty more integrally into the work of LEARN NC, Cheryl will also be building the research program that is essential to continuously improving the learning opportunities that LEARN NC offers. This is consistent with the Strategic Plan we developed last spring that identified programs and activities grounded in a data-driven, continuous improvement model as a core SOE value. Cheryl will provide direction for LEARN NC while Ross White will continue to provide its operational oversight.

The Carolina Center for Educational Excellence is another outreach asset that will be under Cheryl’s direction. Bjorn Hennings oversees the day-to-day operations of the Center and works closely with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District to capitalize on CCEE’s physical connection to Smith Middle School. The facility accommodates students in some SOE programs such as School Counseling as well as practicing educators, particularly SOE graduates.

For instance, CCEE is again hosting “Reconnect and Recharge” seminars for recent graduates who meet three Saturdays across the year to examine problems of practice that they identify. Facilitated by graduate students, the seminars constitute a much-needed opportunity for novice teachers to discuss – in a “safe” space – the pedagogical, relational, and institutional challenges they face. Participants consistently rate the seminars as among the best professional development they experience.  In addition, the problems participants identify and their approaches to solving them provide faculty with data on the outcomes of our programs, data vital to improving our pre-service work.

A third star in our outreach constellation is the Research Triangle Schools Partnership.

Martinette Horner, our new P-12 distinguished educator, has assumed the direction of our partnerships and spent the fall working with colleagues in partner districts – specifically Orange County, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, Durham and the districts that make up the Roanoke River Valley Educational Consortium. RRVEC’s constituent districts are Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Warren and Weldon City, which are among the lowest-wealth communities in the state.

A recent addition to RTSP, the RRVEC has already partnered with School faculty on submitting grant proposals to improve literacy and math learning in the northeastern part of our state. A recently completed memorandum of understanding between the SOE and the RRVEC identifies professional development, pre-service teacher preparation and research as areas for collaboration.

These three initiatives constitute but a portion of the total of our outreach. Individual faculty work regularly in schools throughout the area and state. For instance, Suzanne Gulledge, through the Carolina Campus-Community Partnership, has involved SOE graduate students in a project with Caswell and Lenoir counties. Other faculty are working in Wayne, Columbus and Warren counties.

Taken together, these efforts represent the profound and long-standing commitment of the SOE faculty and staff to improving learning for students throughout North Carolina.

Maintaining this level of outreach is, honestly, a major challenge at the moment. I feel, however, we must continue the work, not merely because we have a responsibility to do so but also because work in schools keeps both our research and preparation programs grounded in the quotidian realities that students, educators and parents are living.