President McDavis pledged to improve local schools when he was inaugurated in 2004. Currently, OU is working with those schools to teach education majors as well as provide an extra set of hands in the classroom.
Before he was president of Ohio University, Roderick McDavis was dean of two colleges of education, a professor of education and counselor education and a vice president for academic affairs — positions he held at several universities.
So when crafting his list of goals for his presidency, it only made sense to include local public schools, where 80 percent of the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education students currently work and learn alongside teachers as a part of their university curriculum.
In 2006, 63 students — only a quarter in the college — worked in local schools as a part of the Center for Professional Development School Partnerships.
“If our work is education, then that work must be applied to actively improving the quality of public schools throughout Southeast Ohio,” McDavis said in his inaugural address in 2004. “We must never forget that a better educated populace leads to a better workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”
During McDavis’ tenure at OU, Athens City Schools have seen an increase in student test results, according to the performance index annually distributed by the Ohio Department of Education.
But the majority of Athens County schools still rank in the bottom half of the state’s public school districts.
“Our kids are really making more progress than they should within a year’s time,” said Liz Hoisington, a first grade teacher at The Plains Elementary School and the teacher liaison for the partnership with OU. “But the problem is, there’s catching up to do.”
OU education students — called teacher candidates — spend dozens of hours each semester working and observing classrooms in Southeast Ohio and the Columbus area.
Sarah Minor, a senior studying special education, transferred into the Patton College of Education her sophomore year because OU offers hands-on classroom experience earlier than some other universities.
Students like Minor provide an extra set of hands in the classroom, where “it’s never a normal day,” she said.
Minor spends Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in Morrison-Gordon Elementary School, 793 W. Union St., frequently working one-on-one with third- and fourth-grade students in special education. She crafts lesson plans about letter sounds, reading and multiplication specifically for her students.
Early childhood education majors spend more than 500 hours of their junior year working in classrooms, Hoisington said, something she said is a direct effect of the partnership OU has with the local schools.
“A lot of universities have partnerships, but the 500 plus hours is pretty rare,” added Hoisington, who is also a clinical educator at OU.
That relationship between local schools and the university is collaborative, said Marcy Keifer Kennedy, OU’s director of the Center for Professional Development School Partnerships.
“Each school helps kind of divide an annual plan of work; what their goal is, what makes them unique,” Kennedy said.
McDavis said he has seen “a noticeable increase with our involvement with rural schools in the region,” something Keifer Kennedy credited to Renee Middleton, dean of the Patton College, and her commitment to engaging with local schools.
She added that teachers and OU faculty often work together as well, exchanging teaching techniques and partnering on projects.
“It’s all about building structures that support and positively impact students and schools,” she said.
And it also is an essential aspect of educating OU’s teacher candidates, Keifer Kennedy said.
“The fact that our local schools invite them in and make them part of the school community — they are better prepared for being in schools, absolutely,” she said.