Professional Development School Partnership with Lowndes County School District and Valdosta State University

| February 20, 2014

PDS-1VALDOSTA, GA – This year marks the premiere of a Valdosta State University – Lowndes County Schools partnership that designates Lowndes Middle School and Hahira Middle School as Professional Development Schools (PDS). The goal for the PDS partnership is to positively impact student learning as well as enhance the professional preparation of middle school teachers.

Last spring, educators from VSU’s Middle Grades and Secondary Education programs met with administrators and school leaders from several local middle and high schools to identify practices that were and were not working for the schools when the VSU students entered their buildings for student teaching.  In the process, two local middle school administrators, Mrs. Janet Hendley of Hahira Middle School and Dr. Derald Jones of Lowndes Middle School, approached program faculty at VSU regarding the potential development of a Professional Development School partnership.  After researching the benefits of engaging in a PDS relationship, attending a PDS conference, and visiting several PDS schools in the Athens area, faculty and administrators from the three institutions agreed to pursue the relationship.

Students in the Middle Grades Education program at Valdosta State University’s Dewar College of Education and Human Services are working closely with middle school teachers and students at Lowndes Middle School and Hahira Middle School.  Between the two middle school campuses, there are currently 47 VSU students, 10 VSU faculty members, 30 Lowndes County teachers and administrators, and 478 Lowndes County students participating in the partnership.PDS-2

All content methods courses as well as an assessment course are taught on the middle schools’ campuses.  Each middle school provides a classroom designated for VSU instruction.  VSU interns meet with their professors to learn educational theories and effective pedagogical practices within the context of their course subject.  They then go into classrooms and assist the classroom teachers in delivering instruction while the VSU faculty member observes, guides, and provides immediate feedback to the interns.

While the Professional Development Schools model has been in existence for over a decade, it is new to VSU and Lowndes County schools.  This new way of work is lessening the disconnect often seen between institutions of higher education and P-12 schools.  The PDS focuses on providing preservice teachers with a more authentic classroom experience, giving school faculty additional resources and support to carry out instruction, providing an opportunity for college faculty to be immersed in the realities of today’s schools and ultimately positively impacting student achievement.

Collaborating across the three institutions is a learning experience for all.  Science and language arts teachers at Hahira Middle School are welcoming pre-service science teachers to observe, teach mini-lessons and work with students in small groups or one-on-one.  In a reflective course assignment on what is working, a science intern wrote, “Being able to observe actual middle school classes is helpful. The way that we rotate to different classes and observe multiple styles of teaching science helps me to be more confident and prepared for student teaching.”

Social studies and math candidates are also gaining unique hands-on experiences in the classrooms of Lowndes Middle School.  Interns are engaging in a variety of learning opportunities from working one-on-one with individual students and small groups on class activities and projects to grading papers and learning to use the laminating machine.  With veteran math teacher Beth Haun, interns have experienced a scavenger hunt using cell phone scanners and QR codes with 8th grade math students as a learning stations activity in the “Math Museum.”  Socialstudies interns also assist the teachers in accessing and gathering resources such as finding primary source documents for use in Georgia history and Early 20th Century European History, and researching sites for the eighth-grade field trip to Savannah.

In addition to the work completed in their teaching areas, VSU students also engage in learning current research and theories connected to how assessments are used and created to maximize student learning.  This component of the PDS complements the work in all the other content areas, and further allows the students to engage in hands-on practices of using data to drive instructional decision-making.  The ability to work with authentic data creates a different experience for the college student.  They develop a sense of ownership of what is happening in the classroom.  “Having an opportunity to study real assessment data and how that translates to the evaluation of a school’s success is tremendously beneficial for the VSU interns,” says Dr. Derald Jones, principal at Lowndes Middle School. “It also helps us have another perspective on performance trends and data analysis.”

PDS3The assessment element of the PDS experience also allows VSU interns to interact with classroom teachers in professional development activities and in professional learning communities. Mrs. Alishia Gaston, a veteran LMS teacher, created a booklet full of tips and tricks-of-the-trade for the soon-to-be, first-year teachers.  The materials she provided to the students included strategies for staying organized and methods for incorporating student choice into assignments.  Mr. Larry Green, a veteran teacher at Hahira Middle School, spoke with students about keeping their passion for students and teaching alive throughout their careers.  He encouraged them to be life-long learners, as well as champions for their students.  “Having an opportunity to study real assessment data and how that translates to the evaluation of a school’s success is tremendously beneficial for the VSU interns,” says Dr. Derald Jones, principal at Lowndes Middle School. “It also helps us have another perspective on performance trends and data analysis.”

The PDS partnership is mutually beneficial for all.  VSU interns are developing professionally.  Teachers in the Lowndes County School System are able to tap into the resources provided by the interns and VSU professors, while the middle schools students are receiving additional support through participating in the partnership.  Ashleigh Tucker, a second-year, language arts teacher at Hahira Middle School shared, “Being a part of VSU’s Professional Development School partnership has enhanced my classroom environment in so many ways.  My students have reaped tremendous benefits from the experience, and I’ve noticed an impressive amount of growth occur.  Ultimately, these interns allow me to focus on students’ independent needs and take differentiation to a whole new level.  As a result, we have achieved a remarkable amount of success in the classroom.  It is truly a win-win situation for all involved.”

As education requirements at the national, state, and local level continue to change and evolve, it is critical new teachers entering the field are prepared to handle those challenges.  This collaborative work will increase not only the readiness of a first-year teacher, but also build a partnership with the administrators and teachers in the Lowndes County Schools System and the Department of Middle, Secondary, Reading and Deaf Education at VSU to ensure all students receive the best education possible.

Source: Lowndes County School System Press Release

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