C. How did the Elementary PDS Partnership Evolve?
The birth of the elementary Professional Development Schools in the 1998-99 school year was the result of a long-term effort to build a trusting partnership between SCASD and Penn State 's College of Education. Both school district and university believed that together they could improve teacher education for new teachers entering the profession, continuing or inservice education for district teachers and Penn State teacher educators, and, most importantly, public school education for State College Area School District children.
The original partnership was initiated in December of 1994 when the two partners received funding through a series of Goals 2000 grants offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The grant, and additional funds provided by the school district and the university, supported the creation of a collaborative partnership that would eventually be actualized through the establishment of Professional Development Schools. During the first year of the project, grant funds were used to establish a steering committee and an action team that developed a PDS framework. Year two (1995-96 school year) was characterized by the formation of study groups that began to implement various components of the PDS concept by collaborating on a number of smaller projects. For example, State College and Penn State collaborated on the offering of a summer reading program where university students and faculty worked on-site with teachers to provide elementary students with a summer reading tutorial. Through this experience, the Penn State students completed their coursework in the teaching of reading and writing and children's literature.
Although the idea of creating a professional development school was clearly advocated by both district and university leadership, the result of the first three years of the collaborative funded by Goals 2000 money was mainly the development of a relationship between the partners. Two areas that had not been focused on, and that needed explicit attention, were the conscious effort to reform the teacher education program and the emphasis on making teacher inquiry a central feature of the schools. Hence, Year three (1996-97 school year) was characterized by experimenting with student teaching at the elementary level. The experimental student teaching focused on teacher inquiry. Over the next two years, four student teachers at Matternville and Ferguson Elementary Schools completed this experimental student teaching that revolved around engaging in teacher inquiry as an integral component of the student teaching semester. For a detailed report of this student teacher inquiry, please see Dana and Silva (2001).
The notion of a full school-year, inquiry-oriented internship for prospective teachers with practicing teachers earning graduate credits for their work with interns crystallized when the local leadership team attended the initial Holmes Partnership Meeting. Hence, Year four (1997-98) was characterized by a series of meetings between faculty at Penn State and teachers at two elementary schools ( Ferguson and Matternville). These district teachers and university faculty collaboratively created a vision for this Professional Development School Partnership characterized by "The Three E's" which form the goals of the Partnership. Future meetings included the teachers' active involvement in creating an intern selection procedure, planning and problem solving sessions, review of intern applications, interviewing potential interns, and matching interns and mentors. Teachers also discussed PDS issues at staff meetings and interacted with interns during school visits.
Additionally, our capacity for mounting the program was enhanced as many of the teachers engaged in independent readings about PDS for university credit. A year of planning and capacity building resulted in the opening of elementary PDS sites. Elementary PDS sites were established at Matternville and Ferguson elementary schools where fourteen interns worked closely with mentor teachers throughout the entire 1998-99 school year.
The anticipated result of this pilot internship year at these PDS sites was the creation of school cultures and a teacher education program focused on co-reform and simultaneous renewal, largely through teacher inquiry. To symbolize the new roles and relationships that were being created through this budding PDS partnership, changes were made in the labels that had been used traditionally to refer to various roles in teacher education. Student teachers became interns. Cooperating teachers became mentors. Methods teachers and student teaching supervisors became Professional Development Associates (PDAs). PDAs co-teach methods courses, aid mentors in the classroom supervision of interns, visit school sites several times each week, conduct observations of interns, spend time with mentors, interns, and their children, serve as a resource for all members of the professional development school community, facilitate inquiry work, and plan and conduct seminars.
In the five years after the initial pilot internship sites were established, the elementary PDS program evolved from 14 interns in two schools to 62 interns in all 10 elementary schools in 2004-2005. Course planning teams made up of mentor teachers, university faculty, principals and curriculum support teachers were established to plan, deliver, and assess the methods courses that PDS interns take and to plan, deliver, and evaluate professional development for veteran teachers and teacher educators. PDS mentor courses on a variety of topics related to the PDS have been conducted each fall, and a teacher inquiry course for mentors and interns has been conducted each spring.
During the evolution of the program, the elementary PDS has been recognized with many awards including the following:
- 2004 Best Partnership Award - Holmes Partnership
- Invited Keynote Address - Holmes Partnership Conference 2003
- Distinguished Program in Teacher Education - 2002 - Association of Teacher Educators
- Outstanding Teacher Researcher Award - 2001 - Northeastern Educational Research Association
- Outstanding Dissertation Award - 2001 - Association of Teacher Educators
- Lucent Technologies Foundation K-16 Partnership Grant - 1999-2002, 2003-2005.