Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
For the past eight years, the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Public Schools have enjoyed a robust, mutually beneficial partnership.
Last night, U-M and AAPS officials shared what they’ve learned from their collaboration. Tucked into the Water Hill neighborhood on the city’s west side, the Ann Arbor Distilling Company provided an atmospheric setting for the panel discussion titled “Education for a just society: Community engaged teaching and learning.”
The seminar focused on how the partnership allows the partners to support children’s learning while providing a valuable context for teacher development.
The evening was the idea of the University of Michigan School of Education’s new dean, Elizabeth Birr Moje, who applauded the AAPS administrators, teachers, students, and families who work so well with the School of Education.
“We know that school and university partnerships can be really difficult to build,” said Moje. “And we know that they’re some of the most productive spaces for doing the kind of work that really benefits children and youth and teachers – that really benefits society.”
This community-engaged partnership known as the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative started eight years ago at the initiation of former AAPS Superintendent Todd Roberts, and now flourishes under the leadership of Superintendent Jeanice Swift, said Moje, adding that a key ingredient of that longevity is the work of Assistant Superintendent Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, Scarlett Middle School Principal Gerald Vazquez and Mitchell Elementary Principal Kevin Karr.
The U-M interns teach alongside AAPS teachers, enhancing the learning environment at Scarlett and Mitchell in many ways, including offering more opportunities for small group instruction and customized individualized learning.
Swift told the crowd that it’s a privilege and honor to be part of the partnership, which has focused on Mitchell and Scarlett, and recently expanded to include Huron High School.
“That means hundreds of teachers, and thousands of students have benefitted and grown through mutual learning,” she said. “What we love about a learning laboratory school is we have the best of teaching, the best of learning, and on those days, everyone’s learning together—both students and teachers and student teachers. And we’re so excited for what this means. It is all the right work in the very, very best place right in the heart of Ann Arbor.”
An added evolution, she said, is the addition of the International Baccalaureate program at Mitchell/Scarlett/Huron, which will make AAPS one of just two districts in the state offering the IB program preschool through 12th grade.
“We’re celebrating what matters most for children—for the 17,448 children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and for all the children whose lives these students and teachers will impact.”
Three University of Michigan scholars—Debi Khasnabis, Cathy Reischl, and Deborah Rivas-Drake— who work with teachers, interns, and children within Mitchell, Scarlett, and now Huron schools, described their work in partnership with the Mitchell-Scarlett-Huron Teaching and Learning Collaborative.
Karr, Vazquez, and Dickinson-Kelley then talked about what they value from the partnership activities.
Karr, who is also the district’s K-12 International Baccalaureate District Coordinator, said that word has spread about the high-quality learning experiences at Mitchell and Scarlett. He said the partnership with the School of Education has led to a boost in school improvement and achievement.
“You’re teaching teachers, we’re teaching kids, and we’ve got to do those things really, really well together,” he said. “It’s just been so powerful, and it’s a defining point in my professional career.”
Vazquez recalled that at the beginning of the partnership during a summer meeting at Mack School, a handful of educators committed to creating a partnership that was fully beneficial to the Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Mitchell-Scarlett community, and the School of Education.
“My sense in that moment was the collective group of people around the table had a commitment to doing something that really hadn’t been done in a way that really could change the landscape of the community on the southeast side of town, and the schools,” he said
As he got to know the caliber of the SOE staff, he knew the work would be powerful, he said, noting that it wasn’t just about research or improving test scores, but doing something that would make a tremendous difference in that landscape.
The partnership since then has created opportunities for teachers to improve their skills, for families to be engaged in the schools in a way they hadn’t before, and for U-M interns to find a place where they can practice their craft in a meaningful way where they’re supported, Vazquez said.
“Ultimately partnerships are about relationships,” he said. “Every aspect of our lives is about a relationship. I can tell you this: In this work over the course of the past seven years, the relationships that we have fostered on behalf of benefitting the children and the families of the Mitchell-Scarlett community have been nothing less than extraordinary.”
Dickinson-Kelley said Mitchell and Scarlett have become the preferred schools in which teachers come to hone their craft.
“Because of the relationship we have with the university, the best teachers want to continue to learn themselves,” she said, “and they want to be in an environment that challenges them to get better every single day, and they also want to teach in an environment where they know they are in service to children who really need them; in service to children who won’t learn in spite of them; and that happens every single day.”
She applauded the teachers at the schools, the administrators, and those families who welcome them into their home.
School of Education Director of Communications Danielle Dimcheff said the ultimate goal of the night was to share knowledge and experiences to make each attendee better able to educate children and youth.
“We hope that new ideas will be born of the discussions that take place,” she said. “And, of course, we hope that everyone will make new connections and leave inspired to engage in the important work of educating our community’s children and youth while also preparing new teachers, education leaders, and researchers.”
The audience of 80 included AAPS School Board Trustee Jeff Gaynor; Blue Ribbon Panel members; local government leaders; teachers, staff, and administrators who work with the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative; U-M deans and executive officers; the School of Education community of faculty, staff, and students; local School of Education alumni and donors; and members of the School of Education Dean’s Advisory Council.