School of Education wins back-to-back national honors

Houston senior and elementary education major Gabby Salazar reads a story to Hillcrest Elementary students. Photo Courtesy of Baylor School of Education.

By Brooke Hill | Copy Editor

The School of Education has won a prestigious national honor for back-to-back years in recognition of its Professional Development School partnership with local schools.

The partnership between Baylor School of Education and Waco Independent School District has earned the Exemplary Professional Development School Achievement Award from the National Association for Professional Development Schools. The award was presented in March to Baylor and Waco ISD, along with three other university-public school partnerships, at the National Association for Professional Development Schools annual conference in Jacksonville, Fla.

Dr. Terrill Saxon, Interim Dean of the School of Education, said it was an honor to be recognized for all of the hard work that goes into making this type of program work, such as coordinating placements and other logistics.

“To have an external group validate what you’re doing gives you that sort of objective peace, that we think it’s great, the school district thinks it’s great, but to have someone external to the partnership tell you it’s great then it’s validating,” Saxon said.

The School of Education received the same award last year for its partnership with Midway ISD. Saxon said the two programs, while both valuable, are distinct because of their differing settings.

“Our teacher education program, we want it to be characterized by having a passion for working with youth in our city,” Saxon said. “It’s a very different setting compared to the suburban districts; they’re right across the freeway from us. We’re geographically partners, just in terms of proximity.”

Senior teaching interns gain experience in both urban and suburban districts, in an effort to prepare them to be prepared for any type of setting they may end up in.

Houston senior Gabby Salazar is currently interning with a first grade at Hillcrest Elementary. Salazar said working with real children in Waco ISD has made her feel prepared to take on a class of her own after graduation.

“The Waco ISD students get to learn from us, yes, but we get to learn from them,” Salazar wrote in an email to The Lariat. “Waco ISD is filled with such diverse students from many different backgrounds. Baylor students get to learn so much from their students, both socially and academically. The partnership between Baylor and Waco ISD is so seamless. Waco ISD schools are not only accommodating to Baylor students, but also welcoming. I have always felt like a part of the Waco ISD family when I was partnered with one of their schools. They are as excited to have us as we are to be there.”

Richard Strot, senior lecturer of education, is the university liaison at Bells Hill Elementary Professional Development School, meaning he is the Baylor faculty member on campus available for students consult. He observes the students and gives feedback and has seen students work in both urban and suburban schools.

“They’ve both been really dynamic partnerships,” Strot said. “The fact that we got the awards one after the other was phenomenal.”

Strot said a unique asset stemming from the Waco ISD partnership is that Baylor grads who complete the Professional Development School within the district and are hired afterwards automatically count as second-year teachers on the pay roll. The principals at Waco schools see the value in keeping teachers who already have experience in local classrooms, Strot said.

“It’s very Pro-Texana,” Strot said. “We’re training teachers for the state of Texas, immersed in culture of Texas schools.”

“The Christian values of serving others are constantly on display in the passion that our students have for teaching and for helping students,” Strot said.

The National Association for Professional Development Schools award is given to a small number of school-university partnerships each year, whose work creates and sustains genuine collaborative relationships between pre-K-12 schools and higher education and prepares the next generation of teachers with valuable classroom experience. The National Association for Professional Development Schools cited the Baylor-Waco ISD partnership “for its mutually beneficial 25-year collaboration and its leadership in PDS [Professional Development School] work nationally.”

Baylor’s Professional Development School program was launched 25 years ago in Waco ISD with a collaboration at Hillcrest Professional Development School. Baylor now has six Professional Development School campuses within Waco ISD at the elementary, middle and high school levels. They include Bell’s Hill Elementary, Hillcrest Professional Development School, Mountainview Elementary and Parkdale Elementary, Cesar Chavez Middle School and University High School.

The honor makes Baylor the only university to have a teacher preparation program, or a Professional Development School partnership, win the award back-to-back.

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