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Colorado District, University To Form Unusual Alliance

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A Colorado school district and a state university have announced plans for an unusual formal "alliance" that will closely link the two organizations in an attempt to improve the school system.

Under the plan disclosed this month by the University of Southern Colorado and School District 60 in Pueblo, the superintendent of the 18,000-student district will become a vice president of the university, reporting to both its president and the district's board of education.

While the president of the 4,300-student university will continue to devote the majority of his time to managing his own institution, he will also have a substantial voice in setting school-district policy.

The alliance, expected to begin in July 1991, will not change either institution's legal status with the state, nor will it give one institution legal or financial liability for the other.

District and university officials said last week that they expected the alliance to lead to better coordination of curricula between the institutions and to creative uses of faculty members from both the public schools and the university.

"As far as we know, there's not another plan like this in the United States," said Ronald S. Pike, president of the Pueblo school board. "The community is very excited. The potential is great."

The partnership envisioned in Pueblo is less comprehensive than an arrangement now in its second year in Chelsea, Mass., where Boston University administers the public schools under a management contract.

'Administrative Umbrella'

Robert Shirley, the president of the University of Southern Colorado, said he believes that by creating an "administrative umbrella'' over the two education systems, the Pueblo institutions can overcome problems that at times have prevented them from working smoothly together.

"A major reason" for past difficulties, he said, "is the absence of an or ganizational framework that would tie the various levels together."

The university president will work closely with the superintendent and the school board to define the district's goals and how to measure them, recommend the academic and administrative reorganization necessary to meet the goals, establish a new budget, devise "in centive packages" for teachers and administrators, and establish a system for rewarding or penalizing schools based on their performance.

The idea for the alliance grew out of the school district's strategic-plan ning process, according to Mr. Pike, the board president. In response to re quests from Superintendent of Schools Edmund Vallejo for proposals to help improve the schools, he said, Mr. Shirley proposed formally link ing the two institutions.

"The more discussions we had, the more excited we became and the more potential we saw in such an alliance," Mr. Pike said. "We've been looking at making changes in education for a long time and have used a rifle approach to try to get changes. We've done a lot of differ ent kinds of things, but we haven't found any silver bullet."

Supported by Governor

The first goal for the alliance, offi cials said, is to increase the acaL demic performance of District 60's students, of whom roughly half are Hispanic and half are white.

The alliance also is expected to be of particular benefit to university stu dents who are studying to become L teachers, although all departments at Southern Colorado will be involved.

The concept of greater collabora tion between the state polytechnical university and the school district has received support from all levels of Col orado government. Gov. Roy Romer, several legislators, and officials of the state education department attended a recent public meeting held to an nounce the formation of the alliance. In addition, the state board of agricul ture, which oversees the university, has pledged its support.

In discussions leading up to the an nouncement, Mr. Pike said, the Gov ernor pledged to support the alliance by helping the district and the univer sity receive needed waivers of state policies. Such an exemption might be necessary if university faculty mem bers are to teach classes in the schools, Mr. Pike said.

Teachers Cautiously Optimistic

Beverly Ausfahl, president of the Pueblo Education Association, said L teachers have greeted the alliance L with "cautious optimism."

"Basically, we don't have a lot of detail," Ms. Ausfahl said last week. "We're primarily discussing the philosophical aspects and the work ing relationship between the two." However, the teachers'-union president said that proposals to have public-school teachers teach at the university would have to be carefully examined to make sure that pulling them out of the classroom would not urden other teachers.

The intent of the alliance is not specifically to prepare District 60 students to attend the University of Southern Colorado, that could be one result, noted Rich ard Radley, an administrative assis tant to the superintendent.

In working together to coordinate school and university curricula, Mr. Shirley of Southern Colorado said, educators will be able to identify gaps in students' academic preparation. Strengthening the links between what is taught in school and what is required at the university also may enable the university to reduce the amount of remedial assistance it provides to students, he added. The present need for remediation is "a problem that has become al most intolerable,'' Mr. Shirley said. The formation of the alliance also may affect the type of administrator who is chosen to replace Superinten dent Vallejo, who plans to retire at the end of the school year. Mr. Pike said the school board might consider widening the traditional pool of ap plicants for the job to include univer sity administrators or business ex ecutives--a move for which it would seek a state waiver. The university and the district also intend to establish an advisory board of national experts to offer ad vice and direction to the alliance.

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