SPOKANE, Wash. – A partnership primarily between Spokane Public Schools and Gonzaga and Whitworth universities will use a nearly $500,000 state grant to design ways to improve teacher education at both universities and help Holmes Elementary School students. Washington State University will provide an initial needs assessment.
The one-year planning grant supported by SPS teachers will identify the unique strengths of teacher candidates at Gonzaga and Whitworth universities and blend them into a powerful collaborative model. Located in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, Holmes serves one of the highest percentages of high-risk and low-achieving students in the school district.
Gonzaga and Whitworth place more pre-service teachers in SPS than any institutions of higher education in the region; together, they placed more than 500 teachers during the 2011-2012 academic year. Both Gonzaga and Whitworth have active mentoring and tutoring programs in Spokane Public Schools. The Collaborative Schools for Innovation and Success grant proposal, funded by the Legislature and managed by the state’s Office of Student and School Success, was developed by SPS in collaboration with education faculty at Gonzaga and Whitworth.
The plan seeks to close a gap in opportunity for Holmes students by leveraging resources of the partner institutions to increase and improve services. Further, the proposal aims to create an innovative and shared model of clinically based teacher preparation based on best practices – a model similar to a medical residency. Teacher-education students from both universities will be placed in Holmes to practice and learn from their university supervisors, on-site mentors, and each other to prepare them to work successfully with at-risk students in at-risk schools.
John Traynor, director of Gonzaga’s Master of Initial Teaching program, who helped develop the grant, said the effort will help local students and could produce a new research-based model for other colleges and universities nationwide to follow.
“I am very excited about the opportunities that this grant provides for the Holmes community as well as the Gonzaga and Whitworth communities. These resources will allow us to develop a partnership that leverages expertise, people and services in support of Holmes children while also providing us with new insights on training teachers to work in high need schools,” Traynor said. “I think the partnership is an especially unique component of this grant. The idea that local universities and the largest school district on this side of the mountains are partnering to improve student learning and development at the elementary school and the universities is a powerful model.”
Debby Tully, Whitworth’s associate dean of teacher education and school partnerships, said the grant will allow the partners to capitalize on this synergy of the good work that has already taken place.
“The CSIS grant provides the impetus for multiple groups of highly capable and committed people to collaborate on improving the learning of students at Holmes while benefiting from the shared knowledge of each: university faculty, teachers, teacher candidates, counselors, administrators, agency personnel, families, community members and students,” Tully said. “The additional focus on developing innovative practices for simultaneous teacher preparation and professional development will benefit students in schools beyond the scope of the grant. I am excited to be involved in this groundbreaking work.”
Holmes faculty and staff led by Principal Steve Barnes will work with Gonzaga and Whitworth to embed teacher-education deeply in the clinical experience; to select candidates for yearlong practicums at Holmes; and to develop opportunities for teacher candidates and Holmes staff leading to second, or additional, educational endorsements.
More than 84 percent of students at Holmes receive the federal free and reduced price lunch program – significantly higher than district and state averages. Holmes also has considerably more students with special needs.
The project managers are: Holmes Principal Assistant Stephanie Lundberg; John Traynor, Gonzaga; and Debbie Tully, Whitworth. Lorna Spear from SPS served on the grant proposal team while SPS Superintendent Shelley Redinger invited the partnership and helped advance the project. Gonzaga School of Education Dean Jon Sunderland and Whitworth Education Dean Dennis Sterner collaborated to set the vision for the project and ensured its progress and success.
Gonzaga’s Dean Sunderland said the grant will be of significant benefit to the Spokane community.
“This planning grant offers three of the major educational institutions in the city of Spokane the opportunity to cooperatively develop strategies that are vital to the community: methods for improving student learning in our schools; and programs for preparing school teachers and administrators who will teach in and lead those schools,” Sunderland said. “Gonzaga’s School of Education has collaborated on various projects with both Spokane Public Schools and Whitworth independently. This project supports the combined power and best thinking from all three, with additional research support from colleagues at WSU, as partners who share in a common cause.”
Whitworth’s Dean Sterner said the project continues the collaborative relationship between Gonzaga and Whitworth to benefit the community.
“Gonzaga and Whitworth have a long history of collaborating on innovative initiatives,” Sterner said. “Likewise, both universities have multiple outreach activities taking place in the West Central neighborhood. We are very pleased to be presented with this newest opportunity to combine our research, resource and efforts to address the opportunity gap for Holmes students and to have a lasting impact on the greater Spokane community and beyond.”
SPS Superintendent Redinger sees additional advantages to the project.
“This is good for teacher education and great for students at Holmes,” Redinger said. “We are excited to work together to support current and future teachers in this important work.”
For more information, please contact John Traynor, director of Gonzaga’s Master of Initial Teaching program, at (509) 313-3632 or via email; Terren Roloff, director of community relations for Spokane Public Schools, at (509) 354-7338 or via e-mail; or Andrea Idso, interim public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or via e-mail.