Ability To Share Turf Is Litmus Test for Partnership

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ANN ARBOR, MICH.--In a light, spacious room here at Carpenter Elementary School, education students huddle around tables, working with small groups of youngsters on mathematics problems.

Principal Giannine Perigo and Joseph N. Payne, a professor of math education at the neighboring University of Michigan, sweep through the classroom, pausing to observe the pre-service teachers as they help the children.

Later, as the principal and professor stroll through the hallways, they pass a university instructor tracing a student's figure on a large scroll of paper and a pair of teachers trading advice in a quiet corner.

The success or failure of the Michigan Partnership for New Education depends almost entirely on the personal and institutional chemistry that takes place in schools like this one.

The ease with which a school and its partner university can merge their sometimes divergent cultures determines whether they can create a unique learning environment for both students and teachers.

Klo Phillippi, who teaches a reading-methods course at the university between visits to Carpenter, called the school "a perfect testing ground'' for educators.

"It's one thing to talk about theory and philosophy, but it's another thing to put it to practice in the classroom,'' she remarked. "All the complexities are there.''

Teachers in the school said sharing their turf with university instructors and teachers-in-training allows them to step back and examine their own practices.

"This gives you the opportunity to observe the kids other than when you're working and teaching,'' explained Steve MacMillan, a 5th-grade teacher who hosted the "math mentors'' from the university. "It gives you a different perspective.''

'The Comfort Zone'

But at Edmonson Middle School in Ypsilanti, another of the university's partner schools, some teachers acknowledged that several staff members have resisted the changes brought on by collaboration.

"The fact remains that we still have some very stagnant people in the school,'' said Sam Still, the head of the science department at Edmonson. "They either got excited or alienated.''

As the university helped the staff restructure the school day, create more planning periods, and put together teaching teams, several teachers found it difficult to adjust to both a new environment and a new approach to their work, said Principal Rosalind Coffey.

"Change takes people out of their comfort zone,'' Ms. Coffey added.

Most people at Edmonson agreed that the changes were necessary to revive the school, though, even if there are still knots that need to be worked through.

Stewart Rankin, a visiting professor at the university and the coordinator of the partnership, said the school is working to become both a small research center and a place to improve teaching and learning.

The substantial cost of developing a professional-development school is divided between the Michigan Partnership and the university, each of which plows about $120,000 into each school, according to Mr. Rankin. In addition, $150,000 is usually raised through other local sources.

However difficult and expensive this new approach to education may be in the beginning, the investment will pay off, many of the teachers and professors involved said.

"I'm not coming into her classroom saying I have all the answers,'' Kate Kline, a graduate student, said of her relationship with Peggy Taylor, a teacher at Carpenter.

"We help each other,'' Ms. Kline explained. "We're adding to each others' repertoires.''

Vol. 12, Issue 40

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