Oakland University creates partnership with Avondale District to create lab school

By Kevin Graham

The School of Education and Human Services is looking to emulate the medical school in preparing teachers for future work.

The desire for a clinical laboratory setting for hands-on application of teaching techniques has led to a partnership between Oakland University and the Avondale School District.

OU students are already working within the district and applying skills learned in their education classes.

The next phase of this partnership should take place Fall 2013 when OU and Avondale open their magnet lab school.

Charles Maxfield, associate professor of educational leadership, explained the theory behind the partnership.

“As you are learning new ideas as an aspiring teacher, you actually are able to work with teachers and children and try those ideas out,” Maxfield said.


A new strategy

Both Maxfield and Avondale superintendent George Heitsch said they are looking to form a school to train teachers using a teaching hospital model in a partnership, similar to the model the School of Medicine has with the Beaumont Health System.

“(One of the goals is) kind of a new look at teacher education to have it look more like medical education so that the partner school will act much like a hospital would for students within the college of education for clinical experiences for them,” Heitsch said.

Part of the strategy calls for a new level of leadership among the teachers involved.

“The traditional notion of leadership is that here in the School of Education, the dean is in charge and in the school district the superintendent and principals are in charge,” Maxfield said. “One of the features of this whole project is to begin thinking about the role that teachers in the school district play as peer leaders, as teacher leaders.”

Heitsch said this comes at a time when there is a push for K-12 educational reform in Michigan.

“I think both higher education and public education are at a tipping point,” Heitsch said. “Our older models are effective for many of our students, but they are not effective for all of our students.”


Already bearing fruit

Although the K-3 school of choice will not open until September of next year, the partnership is already paying off with OU students training in the district, according to Maxfield.

Maxfield received a letter from an Auburn Elementary School teacher stating that 65 students were able to receive extra reading instruction as a result of the program with OU, which started during the Fall semester.

Heitsch said the partnership will be a great asset for teachers in the district.

“One of the greatest advantages is just the volume of adult support that will be available,” he said.

Maxfield also said OU has been able to bring wider university resources to bear. The medical school has begun a “Docs and Jocks” program promoting physical fitness and nutrition at one of the schools.

The School of Education and Human Services is also helping with counseling and social work services, according to Maxfield.


The bigger picture

Maxfield and Heitsch both see the program impacting all grade levels in the future and Heitsch believes the magnet school is just the start.

“Even though the clinic school, that experience may start on a limited basis, we know that we’re going to see the benefits of a partnership with Oakland University at all grade levels and in every building,” Heitsch said.

Heitsch said they hope the program becomes the model for similar partnerships across the nation.

“Our goals are to improve the quality of life for our whole school community, to close achievement gaps across the district and to be part of a national model for partnerships between public schools and universities,” he said.