Kansas University education professors working atop Mount Oread sometimes may seem out of touch with those in the trenches the teachers and administrators working in public schools.
But Fred Rodriguez, associate professor of education at KU, hopes that perception will change with a new program designed to get education researchers spending more time in public school classrooms.
The vehicle will be the Kansas Alliance of Professional Development Schools, which involves KU's School of Education and four northeast Kansas school districts, including Lawrence.
Rodriguez said school districts already work with the school of education to some extent by providing places for student teachers and interns to get practical experience.
"We've had very good cooperation with schools," said Rodriguez, chair of the alliance's executive council. "The professional development school in my mind is taking the next big step from cooperation to collaboration working together to solve problems in a much different way."
THROUGH the alliance, a grade school, middle-level school or high school in the Lawrence school district could request to become a professional development school. If the request is approved by the school board and the school of education faculty, interaction between KU and the school would increase significantly.
Rodriguez said one thing that would stand to improve through the partnership is education research: Some KU faculty members could be doing research within the professional development school.
"Historically, the biggest complaint you hear from classroom teachers is that the type of research being done at the university is not relevant to them," Rodriguez said. "If classroom teachers link up with researchers and begin to ask questions of mutual interest, educators on the hill would be looking at research that is really relevant and could make a difference."
RODRIGUEZ said the on-site work could take considerably more time than typical research. With pressure on university faculty to publish frequently, he said, non-tenured professors might not be excited about working in a professional development school at first.
"We may be looking at the reward structure within the school of education and seeing how tenure guidelines match with the professional development school concept," Rodriguez said. "In my mind, this type of research makes a bigger difference in the lives of everybody involved."
Rodriguez said the professional development school could benefit not only from the research but from greater numbers of interns and student teachers working in the school.
"They can possibly be in the classroom and provide some relief time for those teachers and let them do some planning."
Rodriguez said the professional development school has to be beneficial for both sides.
"I WILL NOT allow it to be a KU project coming down and jumping on the school," Rodriguez said. "It has to be a partnership where we both have equal benefits."
At this stage, Rodriguez has been meeting with principals in the Lawrence school district to tell them about the professional development school concept. He said it could be several months before KU actually begins working with a professional development school in the district.
But West Junior High School Principal Mick Lowe, who has represented the Lawrence school district on the alliance, says he already sees the merits to having a professional development school.
He said the arrangement will help a school to "look at solving real-life problems in schools using the expertise of KU researchers."
"We have a number of collaborative things that we do with the university, but I see this as a way of formally committing some resources," Lowe said. "We can coordinate and make it more effective, more efficient."
Lowe added that KU has "bent over backwards to make sure the public schools have had a lot of input into this process."