St. Paul Schools to start ‘collaborative school’ partnership

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Minnesota’s largest private university is partnering with the state’s second-largest school district for a new approach to teacher preparation.

The University of Saint Thomas and Saint Paul Public Schools is turning Maxfield Elementary School into a “collaborative learning school.”

“This is the dream. This is the gold standard,” said Dr. Amy Smith, interim dean of the School of Education at St. Thomas.

Starting in the fall of 2023, St. Thomas will have its own classroom at Maxfield Elementary for instructing its School of Education students.

Those student-teacher candidates will also assist in elementary school classrooms.

“This is a much deeper experience. It’s really an embedded presence. It closes that gap so our students are prepared for what’s really out there,” Smith said.

University of St. Thomas professors and faculty members will also be on site and have opportunities to conduct research at the school.

“That is unique. We’ve never had professors in the building before,” said Dr. Leslie Hitchens, principal at Maxfield Elementary. “Just putting it all together: teachers learning from students, students learning from teachers and then the university professors coming in and helping with different types of research practices that will benefit our students and our community.”

Hitchens said Maxfield Elementary has been in the Rondo neighborhood for more than 130 years and serves a diverse population of families, with 52% black students, 15% Hispanic, 12% identifying as two or more races, 11% Asian and 10% white.

They expect some of the research performed by the university will look at ways to increase educational outcomes for students of color in terms of testing and graduation rates, while incorporating new teaching methods catered to their unique cultures and backgrounds.

“And then what’s really exciting is what can we do in the school district, in the nation or globally as we get to do research projects that yield results about what’s working, what’s working well and how we can share those results with other communities,” Smith said.

Another goal of the new partnership is to help train and hire more teachers in the coming years.

Within the last week, a new state report revealed nearly every district in the state is dealing with a teacher shortage.

“It’s this wonderful, wonderful opportunity for us to better prepare teachers and that’s the goal,” Smith said. “We’re thinking about how we best prepare teacher educators and I know this is it.”