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Discovering Together

by John Traynor & Deborah Tully - 2019

Background/Context: School–university partnerships, research–practice partnerships, and professional development schools represent three separate framings for the type of work outlined in this case study. These types of partnerships face various challenges as outlined in the literature, for the partnership as a collective and the partners at an institutional level. This case study contributes to this literature and provides potential policy implications through both the successes and challenges that are included.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The research focused on a partnership that received funding through a grant provided by the state legislature. This study explored the partnership between a local, public K–6 elementary and two private institutions of higher education, their teacher preparation programs specifically. The research focused on ways in which the partnerships improved both student achievement and teacher candidate preparation while also improving the overall school culture.

Research Design: This research design is a mixed-methods case study and analyzes the partnership and the influences that resulted at the school and the institutions of higher education. This discussion draws on anecdotal, qualitative, and quantitative data and observations to reflect on the impact of the work of the partnership.

Data Collection and Analysis: The resulting profile uses several sources of data: interviews and surveys (current and past participants), documents (meeting note summaries, planning documents, etc.), performance data (academic, attendance, and behavior), and participation data (i.e., teacher candidates placed at schools, extended learning opportunity participation, etc.).

Conclusions/Recommendations: The partnership outlined in this article benefited where the personnel were consistent throughout the life span of the project. Challenges were more acute when there were changes to personnel assigned to the partnership. In addition, having additional student supports, either in classrooms during the school day (i.e., math and literacy instructional time) or in the extended learning program after school, met the dual purpose of positively impacting student development (academic and social/emotional) and providing authentic learning experiences for preservice teacher candidates. This is a promising organizing framework on which to build these types of partnerships.


Planning for the schooluniversity partnership project included participation of personnel from the two university partners, Bellarmine University and Knox University (pseudonyms); personnel from Santos (pseudonym) Public School District leadership; and the building leadership at Kennedy (pseudonym) Elementary. University team members were faculty and administrators in the teacher preparation programs of the respective schools of education at Bellarmine and Knox Universities. While the core participants from Santos Public School District were primarily administrators from Kennedy, the president of the Santos Education Association (SEA) joined the team during the planning year. Since the inception of this project in fall 2012, there have been changes to both the structures for planning and organizing the partnership and the personnel, at Kennedy in particular. Although this is reflective of the challenges of this type of collaborative project, the majority of the personnel from the universities and the school have been involved in the partnership throughout the life of the project.

In addition to changes in personnel, this article also describes the arc of the partnership through the various iterations of activities and initiatives in support of Kennedy students and families as well as Bellarmine and Knox teacher candidates. The planning year development process and theory of change are described briefly because they set the foundation for the more thoughtful change process that resulted from the comprehensive needs assessment, which was conducted during the beginning of the year (2012), and the resulting innovation and success plan that was subsequently developed and reviewed annually as the template for the Santos SchoolUniversity Partnership Project.


Kennedy Elementary, with an enrollment of around 400 students, is located in the West Central neighborhood in Santos. The school is physically located in, and draws students from, the lowest income legislative district in the state. The neighborhood has higher levels of housing insecurity and crime when compared with others in the district. The neighborhood is experiencing some gentrification because of the proximity to a new development. Kennedy was chosen as the Santos district school for the schooluniversity partnership project based on both demographic and performance data. Table 1 shows the demographic composition of the school, in comparison with the district and state. These data include the year that informed the selection of Kennedy as the school site for the schooluniversity partnership project (20102011) and the most recent year data were available when writing this article (20151016). Kennedy Elementary has a large concentration of students who are served by the federal free and reduced price lunch program (84.4% in 20102011 and 87% in 20152016). This number continues to be much higher than the district and state averages. It is important to note that Kennedy has seen increases, since the beginning of the grant, in the percentages of English language learners (2.8%6.1%), children who qualify for special education (20.7%26.9%), and students of color (30.5%42.5%). In addition, Kennedy works with a high mobility rate of 51% (leading the district), compared with a district average of 24% (the average mobility rate for Kennedy over the past 11 years is 54%, while the Districts average is 26%).

Table 1. Demographic Information for Kennedy Elementary


Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Meals

English Language Learner

Children With Special Needs

Children of Color










Kennedy (20102011)









Kennedy (20152016)









Santos SD (20102011)









Santos SD (20152016)









State (20102011)









State (20152016)









Note: Data retrieved from the OSPI X State Report Card; 20102011, the first year of the grant, and 20152016, the final year of the grant.

In addition to the mentioned demographic rationale, performance data also led to the inclusion of Kennedy in the schooluniversity partnership project. During the identification process for the partner school, Kennedy was among the lowest achieving schools in the district as measured by district, state, and federal criteria. Kennedy performed lower than other elementary schools in state Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) scores at all grades in reading and mathematics. Table 2 compares the percentage of Kennedy students, at the indicated grade levels, who met the state-determined standard for passing the Reading and Math MSP tests, with the districtwide percentages for these same grade levels and tests.

Table 2. 20102011 MSP Results for Kennedy Elementary and Santos School District


Kennedy Elementary

Santos Public School District

MSP Test


Met Standard (%)


Met Standard (%)

3rd-Grade Reading





3rd Grade Math





4th-Grade Reading



2, 197


4th-Grade Math





5th-Grade Reading



2, 226


5th-Grade Math





6th-Grade Reading





6th-Grade Math





Note. Data retrieved from OSPI X State Report Card, 20102011.

The combination of demographic and performance data, as illustrated in Tables 1 and 2, led to the identification of Kennedy Elementary as the Santos districtdesignated school for the schooluniversity partnership project grant.

A distinguishing feature of the Santos partnership is the inclusion of two separate institutions of higher education through the involvement of both Bellarmine and Knox Universities. The similarities (private and liberal arts) between these two universities, as well as a history of collaboration between the organizations in generaland, more specifically, the faculty in the teacher preparation programsallowed this type of partnership to be possible. Different from the other two grant sites, which paired one school with one teacher education program, our site included two universities and their preparation programs paired with one school. While organizing the work across an additional institution has at times complicated matters, the use of dual university partners has been value-added to the overall experience of the project.


The planning year of the grant (20122013) will be described briefly because it preceded the completion of the comprehensive needs assessment that, along with the efforts of the workgroup, caused a change in course with respect to the theory of change and the resulting innovation and success plan that was submitted at the end of the year. The organizational structure of the partnership evolved over the five years of implementation. During the initial planning stages of the project, this structure included a steering committee that comprised the two members of the Santos School District central office, the president of the Santos Education Association, two faculty (one each from Bellarmine and Knox), and representatives of Kennedys administration (principal and principal assistant). At the site level, a grant leadership team was developed that included the mentioned two faculty from Bellarmine and Knox, as well as Kennedys administration and staff (representation from primary and intermediate grades and from certified and title staff). In addition to the grant leadership team, a site-based structure to organize and deliver the activities of the partnership was developed through the creation of four distinct professional learning communities, which the Kennedy community refers to as professional learning teams: (a) community/family, (b) social/emotional, (c) literacy, and (d) math.

The planning year was guided by the original schooluniversity partnership project grant proposal. The proposal included four cornerstones to guide the activities of the partner institutions: (a) partnerships; (b) wraparound services for students; (c) instructional practices: equity pedagogy and social justice; and (d) clinical preparation of preservice teachers. These cornerstones served as guideposts for the activities of the partnership that emerged from the various work groups (i.e., steering committee, grant leadership team, and various professional learning teams). In discussions of the process and progress of the Santos partnership project, this phase has been jokingly referred to as the dating phase because one of the core activities during this time was for the personnel involved to come to know one another, along with the institutional realities that inform their respective work. This is an important theme that has emerged: Relationship development is a critical step toward successful partnership work.


As part of the initial planning year of the grant (fall 2012), a comprehensive needs assessment was completed by a professional from a learning and performance research center at a large state university. This needs assessment was required within the grant parameters of the schooluniversity partnership project and was also conducted to provide evidence, information, and guidance for the project, particularly related to the needs of Kennedys community. The needs assessment used a mixed-method approach to collect, analyze, and triangulate data from several sources, including surveys, individual and focus group interviews, observations, student data, and relevant documents. In sum, the comprehensive needs assessment examined (a) disaggregated student data, (b) the needs of Kennedy Elementary students, as identified by parents and current and former students and staff, (c) levels of support within the school community and in the external community at large, and (d) the elements included in an academic performance audit under Revised Code of Washington 28A.657.040.

Following are the key findings from the comprehensive needs assessment:


Almost unanimously, interview respondents indicated that the majority of Kennedy Elementary teachers care deeply about the students.


In addition to academic needs, Kennedy Elementary parents, staff, and students suggested that students have basic needs; health needs; love, care, and respect needs; environmental needs; needs for consistency; teaching and learning needs; and needs for greater engagement with and education for parents and families.


A need exists for safety and community building within the classroom and within the outside community or surrounding neighborhood.


There is a need for after-school programs that not only give students a safe place to be outside of school hours but also enhance students learning through a combination of arts, physical activities, and academic tutoring.


Many participants described a need for teachers who will hold children, parents, and themselves accountable for students achievement; hold high standards for students; and not use poverty as an excuse for not meeting standard.


Results suggested that a need exists for newer curriculum and curriculum that is horizontally aligned within grade levels.


Results also suggested that teachers need more time for collaboration within grade levels, between primary and intermediate grades, and between teachers of consecutive grades.


Enhanced communication between teachers, building administrators, and district leaders may be a key factor in increasing student achievement.


Analysis of disaggregated student data suggests that attention to girls, students with disabilities, and the subjects of math and writing for fourth-grade students may help increase the number of students meeting standard.


There is a great deal of school- and community-level support for meeting childrens basic needs. One level of support is the partnerships that already exist between Kennedy Elementary and the institutions of higher education and between the universities and the Santos Public School District. Additionally, the universities serve as a resource for finding positive mentors, supervisors, and volunteers. Another level of support is identified as the knowledgeable faculty at the universities, who bring several years of educational experience to the project and can benefit student achievement.


The following recommendations are based on the findings from the needs assessment:

Improving Student Achievement

1.  Develop a culture of trust and a safe environment at Kennedy Elementary.

2.  Modify decision-making protocols.

3.  Make professional development and collaborations meaningful.

4.  Celebrate and document successes.

5.  Establish a mission statement and goals.

6.  Improve student achievement by examining current practices.

7.  Pay particular attention to certain subgroups.

8.  Consider nutrition at greater length.

9.  Recognize your strengths, and draw on them.

Increasing Collaborations

1.  Consider different ways to use the resources you have.

2.  Utilize the whole university.

3.  Include students, staff, and families in decision-making processes.

4.  Find ways to incorporate parent education into student activities.

5.  Focus on creating after-school programs and a mentoring program.

Enhancing the Preservice Teacher Experience

1. Have preservice teachers observe at Kennedy before entering as a coteacher.

2. Encourage preservice teachers to read books related to trauma and strategies for dealing with trauma.

3. Carefully match preservice teachers and current classroom teachers.

4. Allow for one-on-one work with students in the classroom.

5. Encourage flow of information between preservice teachers and current teachers at Kennedy.

Following the completion of the needs assessment, the innovation and success plan was developed to help guide the work for the subsequent years. The sequence presented next provides a preview of the six years of the partnership project and is a snapshot into the arc of the activities and initiatives that have emerged over the course of the grant work.  The various foci of the years are included to provide an overview of the logic model and resulting activities as they are outlined throughout the remainder of the article.


Year 1: Planning YearCompleted comprehensive needs assessment, worked on process of establishing/building relational trust.


Year 2: Began process of professional learning communitiesaligning curriculum to standards and focusing instruction. Included the social/emotional professional learning communities and the parent and community professional learning team.


Year 3: Started extended learning opportunities run in collaboration with the universities. Targeted push-in intervention. Refined our systems of support: social/academic/behavior. Implemented attendance review committee and resource management team. Planned integrated university classes within the schoolhouse. Served 60 students in the extended learning opportunity with specific content focus.


Year 4: Introduced specific mentor training. Fully integrated three university classes within the schoolhouse. Increased extended learning opportunity services to nearly 300 students.


Year 5: Increased extended learning opportunity support from undergraduate programs at Bellarmine and Knox universities. Continued site-situated methodology courses. Increased alignment of extended learning opportunity interventions to school-day curriculum and instructional practices. Developed sustainability model in preparation for the reduction of resources for grant-related activities.


Year 6: Continued support for the extended learning opportunity program. Continued partnership with Kennedy as a school site for placing education students completing varied levels of practica. Began implementation of sustainability measures in preparation for the reduction of resources for grant-related activities.


The logic model that informed the partnership between Kennedy, Bellarmine, and Knox is anchored in the dual initiatives of closing the opportunity gap and improving student learning, as well as the implementation of preservice preparation and in-service professional development for work in low-income schools that are not meeting state standards. The model leverages both environments (elementary school and university teacher preparation and professional development programs) in service to one another through a reciprocal relationship anchored in student, candidate, and teacher learning. In the case of the school, the conceptual framework includes the concepts of academic press, social support, and relational trust (Salina, Girtz, & Eppinga, 2016a) and is delivered through the work of professional learning communities (DuFour, 2004) with systems of support around academic, attendance, behavior, and social/emotional success metrics. In the case of the teacher education programs, the use of coteaching within a saturation model, and the field situation of teacher preparation coursework and the involvement of early teacher education candidates in providing additional student supports are innovative efforts to support student, candidate, and teacher learning.

The Santos model is anchored in the notion of learning communities aligning work to improve student achievement by increasing student, teacher, and family supports while preparing beginning teachers. These themes will emerge throughout the discussions and evidence provided in the article and the framework that has guided the partnership. Throughout all the various categories, we have aligned our work to reflect evidence-based practices and new approaches for the partnership work between schools and universities. In some cases, these themes are presented as discrete initiatives at Kennedy, Bellarmine, or Knox and are indistinguishable from one another because they are in service to both student achievement and performance, and preservice teacher preparation and in-service professional development.

Table 3. Key Themes of the Partnership Work





Improved Relational Trust

Professional learning teams

Improved structures for collaboration and communication

Increases across all five organizational trust categories

Culture for Learning

CoIn/use of data/integration of systems

Grade-level and grade-band collaboration

Increased attention to alignment of instructional and assessment goals

Additional Student Supports

Extended learning opportunities, student teacher saturation, social worker position

Increased social services and supports, after-school programming, increased classroom personnel

High levels of after-school participation in extended learning opportunities, academic achievement among students served by university field-situated courses


Community Engagement

Social worker position, Student Success Team, family/community professional learning team

Home visits, increased opportunities for parents/community voices, attendance and resource management review action teams

Monthly professional learning team meeting with community partners, increased activities for families with children

Preservice Teacher Preparation and


Saturation of student teachers, staffing of extended learning opportunities, field-situated methodology courses

Multiple student teachers placed at school (as many as 10), undergrad and grad teacher candidates staffed extended learning opportunities, math and literacy methods delivered within school setting

Monthly meetings among student teachers and supervisors from both universities, signs of improved efficacy for those in extended learning opportunity roles, undergrad and math methods students requesting future placement at school



Dr. Chuck Salina is the thought leader for the logic model at the school. He has been involved in several school change projects throughout the region and has outlined this work in two books that provide a much deeper dive on the logic model and case studies in its application (Salina et al., 2016a; Salina, Girtz, & Eppinga, 2016b). Dr. Salina became involved during the planning year of the project following the results of the schoolwide needs assessment that were outlined in the overview. A key finding from the needs assessment was the need to create systems of alignment at a building level, integrate our community and families into the culture of Kennedy, and build a culture of trust and support among staff, students, families, and all stakeholders. From the needs assessment, it became clear that changes in the structure and function of Kennedy Elementary, including relationships among teachers as well as between the school and families must happen for improvement to occur. The conceptual framework described next represents a model that works across both the activities at Kennedy and the university partners work in preparing teachers through their respective program coursework and their fieldwork situated at Kennedy. The relational trust circle provides an important backdrop to the academic and social work that is done at Kennedy Elementary and through the respective university teacher preparation programs.

The framework is built on the notion, represented in Figure 1, that three key components guide the work toward the end goal of creating a culture for learning: relational trust, academic press, and social support. Academic press represents the commitment to quality instruction and aligned curriculum anchored in standards and high expectations for all students (Lee, Smith, Perry, & Smylie, 1999). These commitments provide key direction to efforts to improve student achievement (Lee et al., 1999). The social support component relates to both academic and emotional support for students (and families). As Salina et al. (2016b) described, Academic press and social support are both necessary to improve student performance (p. 16). By layering in additional supports for students (and families), schools are able to hold high expectations for students that are buttressed in such a way as to make these achievement goals attainable. This model is based on the idea that if students have more personal connections, more interactions with where they are recognized as individuals, they will achieve more (p. 16). These connections and supports allow students to experience improved achievement (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Finally, relational trust provides a sort of glue that adheres academic press and social support to one another. It has the capacity to deepen and align the commitments and efforts that individuals are willing to make because their respective efforts are moving them collaboratively toward mutually held organizational goals (Salina et al., 2016b, p. 18). The improvement of trusting relationships across all interactionsstudent and teacher, teacher and administrator, school and familysupports the work that all members of the community engage in to support student achievement.

Figure 1 provides an important visual representation of the concept of relational trust wrapping around the elements of social support and academic press, with the intended outcome of a renewed culture for learning. In addition to the concepts and elements, this framework provided a narrative and common language around which various constituencies could both anchor and frame their work.

Figure 1. Conceptual Framework for the School Change Process

Reprinted from Powerless to Powerful: Leadership for School Change (p. 20), by C. Salina, S. Girtz, & J. Eppinga, 2016, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Copyright 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield. Reprinted with permission.



Kennedy has developed a team of staff members who meet on a biweekly basis for the purpose of evaluating the needs of the school, developing the systems of support, and advancing the mission and vision of the school. We refer to this team as the accountability team (the A team), and it is composed of the school administration, counselor, school community specialist, and outside consultant Dr. Chuck Salina.

The model in Figure 2 is an infographic that frames our work at Kennedy. The outer circle of the model depicts the collaborative inquiry (CoIn) process of the administrative team. The administrative team planning process, or 45-day plan, describes specific targets and related action steps that support the work of five specific goals. These five goals focus on the following:


Creating a collaborative culture that promotes student achievement and focuses on the connection of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices


Using data to refine systems of social support and academic press for each student


Developing and implementing more opportunities for students to help connect to school and envision their future


Engaging our local and school community


Implementing the student teacher saturation model that supports improved teaching and learning

Figure 2. The Collaborative Inquiry (CoIn) School Change Model and Action Framework

Reprinted from Transforming Schools Through Systems Change (p. 95), by C. Salina, S. Girtz, & J. Eppinga, 2016, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Copyright 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield. Reprinted with permission.


Embedded in each 45-day time period are formative assessments, or quick wins. Quick wins require the Administrative Team to collect evidence that can be used to evaluate whether each action step has been accomplished. Each person on the administrative team has specific goals and action steps within the 45-day plan that he or she is accountable for achieving. The administrative team meets twice weekly regarding the 45-day plan. During these meetings, the administrative team members discuss and engage in CoIn, review problems of practice within a given goal area, and provide evidence that supports their work. Specific action plans are developed and implemented to ensure that the 45-day planning cycle is dynamic, is continuous, and moves to immediate action. The inner circles of the model depict the dynamic relationship between the 45-day planning process, the implementation of schoolwide systems, evidence collection, and the work of teachers in their learning teams. The results section of this article includes a more detailed description of the process and products that have emerged from this model. In that section, we share select data as exhibitors of these improvements.


In addition to the school change framework (Figure 2), the delivery of additional student supports is a key component of the logic model with respect to student achievement. In particular, two initiatives have received considerable thought, attention, and resources in service to this delivery: (a) schoolcommunity liaison position; (b) delivery of extended learning opportunities/out-of-school time programming.

Beginning in the second year of the partnership (2013), Kennedy hired a schoolcommunity liaison/interventionist. This person connects students and their families to community resources such as mental health therapy and access to food banks, child care, affordable housing options, clothing banks, and free or low-cost medical or dental clinics. The schoolcommunity liaison is deeply connected to the neighborhood where Kennedy is located and attends community partnership meetings, seeks out new resources, and frequently conducts home visits. In addition, this position is responsible for leading the monthly family/community professional learning team. These team meetings include participation from families and community members who meet regularly to strategize how to maximize support for students. Additionally, the liaison actively supports students attendance at school by following up with the family if a child misses considerable time from school. This follow-up with the family is designed to problem-solve how best to remove barriers to getting the child to school. In addition, the liaison conducts the attendance review team with students, families, teachers, and community members to strategize how a child may more readily attend school. The results section of this article provides additional activities and descriptions of family engagement and student support initiatives that have resulted from the creation of this position.

Beginning in Year 3 (2014), the partnership launched an extended learning opportunity program in the after-school time. This work aligns well to the scholarship out of John Hopkins University, which was disseminated in the white paper, Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All: The Crucial Role of Student Supports (Balfanz, 2013). The key strategy outlined and advocated for in this report is the development and delivery of aligned student supports. This framework informed the development of opportunities that provide additional supports to students and align with Balfanz s suggestion (2013) that strategies need to be developed to amass sufficient person power to form supportive relationships with the hundreds of struggling students in need of individualized support (p. 13). The university students become the person power suggested through their work in the schools with the students in need of these types of connections. This focus has guided the work of the partnership resulting in a much strengthened extended learning opportunity program offered twice a week for 2 hours after school. In addition to the alignment to academic press and social supports that the extended learning opportunity program delivers on, this represents an important environment and opportunity for Bellarmine and Knox to involve their teacher education students in the delivery of significant and authentic learning experiences. This is discussed in detail in the results section and the subsequent article in this special issue that is dedicated to the teacher preparation component of the larger partnership narrative (Napolitan et al., 2019, this issue).

The recent report released by the Afterschool Alliance (2016) titled America After 3PM Special Report: Afterschool in Communities of Concentrated Poverty makes an even stronger case for this strategy in working with students living in lower income communities. The report suggested that these programs are especially effective at delivering the described student supports:

Afterschool programs are integral partners in efforts to provide much needed support to families living in communities of concentrated poverty, who are less likely to have access to venues selling affordable and accessible healthy foods, less likely to have health insurance and more likely to attend a school with a high dropout rate. Comprehensive afterschool programs can play a central role in helping coordinate a wide variety of supports for families in need by serving as a platform foror a connector tomentoring programs, access to nutritious meals, healthcare and wellness check-ups, and housing, among other services. (p. 24)

The extended learning opportunity program is a mechanism to provide additional support, mentorship, learning, and a safe and healthy environment to Kennedys students by accessing out-of-school time. Coupled with the support services that the liaison is able to deliver and coordinate across networks of partners, these two initiatives have helped in the pursuit of the conceptual framework commitment to supports. Descriptions of the extended learning opportunity programs, including survey and interview data from teacher candidates involved in the program, are discussed in greater detail in the results section.


The second focus of the logic model is the work done by the university partners in service to both preservice teacher preparation and in-service teacher professional development. The work of the Bellarmine and Knox teacher preparation programs is anchored in the implementation of field-situated preparation practices that provide the supplementary person-power necessary to provide additional student supports. This theory of teacher preparation focuses on engaging our teacher education students in work at Kennedy with students, families, and teachers. The co-teach framework (Bacharach, Heck, & Dahlberg, 2010) is a model that has informed the collaboration between teacher candidates and practicing teachers. This model has layered over a commitment to a saturation model (placing as many masters in teaching students as possible in classrooms for their one-year practicum), using the co-teaching model of student teaching, which allows for an increase in the trained person-power involved in the work at the school. In addition, both Bellarmine and Knox have situated methods courses (Mathematics at Bellarmine and English/Language Arts and General Methods at Knox) in the building during the school day. This shift has included changing pedagogies in response to the real-time issues that the Kennedy teachers and students are experiencing and has provided authentic teaching experiences as an instructional strategy for learning to teach (McDonald et al., 2014).  Finally, the development, implementation, and growth of the extended learning opportunity programs have provided additional opportunities for preservice teacher candidates to deliver authentic academic press and social support.


In this section, we review the key areas of our model and discuss findings related to the impact of the schooluniversity partnership work at Kennedy, Bellarmine, and Knox. This discussion draws on anecdotal, qualitative, and quantitative data and observations to reflect on the impact of the work of the partnership. The resulting profile uses several sources of data: interviews and surveys (current and past participants), documents (meeting note summaries, planning documents, etc.), performance data (academic, attendance, and behavior), and participation data (i.e., teacher candidates placed at schools, extended learning opportunity participation, etc.).


A key finding from the comprehensive needs assessment was the need to improve the culture of trust and safety for all members of the school community, particularly the staff. Additionally, there was a need to improve collaboration and communications with respect to staff, administration, and district office personnel. The focus was on a process that engaged all educators at Kennedy via professional learning teams based on the DuFour (2004) model of professional learning communities or leadership teams; regular planning conversations took place, at least every 2 weeks, in response to student needs and the evolving objectives of the 45-day plan. Similarly, faculty and student interns from both universities engaged in monthly professional learning teams that resulted in better collaboration and communication among student interns. Analyses of the interns reflective data were used to inform leadership practices at the school, and instructional and administrative practices within the universities.

Attending to the school culture supported teachers to engage the schoolwide change process and implementation of systems of support and collaboration. Figure 1 in the overview section of the logic model provides a visual of the model that has organized the work in which Kennedys faculty, staff, and administration have been engaged over the past several years. The data/success team process was instrumental in addressing the components of this logic model. The data/success team process is an evidence-based process that collects and monitors achievement, social/emotional, behavior, and attendance data on each student. The success teams primary function is connecting students and teachers to schoolwide systems and monitoring the successes that relate to the specific needs of individual students. Following is a description of the various aspects and initiatives that align to and have resulted from the model:


Schoolwide systems are specific processes and structures that support the behavioral, achievement, attendance, and social-emotional needs of students. Many of these systems of support are embedded in this report.


Learning teams regularly engage in CoIn. Grade-level bands meet weekly to ensure that student-learning targets, common assessments, and teaching practices are aligned. Student work and related evidence are reviewed to ensure that student learning is achieved. Learning teams have routine conversations with the success team to ensure that system support is in place for specific students.


The interaction of each of the different factors described becomes synergistic through a systems approach to change. Thus, the leadership team acts on its 45-day plan; the success team monitors and connects teachers and students to system supports; and teachers act on their learning team goals.

Figure 3 provides a visual representation of the model that has guided the work of the professional learning teams at the grade and grade-band (i.e. K2, 34, 56) levels as the school has worked to better align the curriculum, instruction, and assessment activities. This model shows the cycle of inquiry that the groups have followed as they engage in their work. In a survey of the grade-level professional learning teams, evidence of two themes emerged with respect to both process and product: (a) improved coordination of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and (b) improved communication due to the increased collaboration time. The third-grade team described this coordination in this way: Our team utilized the PLC time to build, collaborate, reflect and analyze instruction, curriculum and standards. We were able to also look at data and how it drives our instruction and build new curriculum and assessments to follow-up on the data that was analyzed (Grade 3 team survey response). This provides a helpful illustration of the cycle described in Figure 3. This organizational framework supported teachers to work together toward common goals. As described by the fifth-grade team, this framework and the accompanying time made us closer as a team, allowed us to be more consistent within the grade level and had kept us focused on the goals we have set (Grade 5 survey responses). Similarly, the teams indicated that this time and format increased the quality of communication and collaboration efforts by facilitating conversations about what is going on in our classrooms and (allowing us to) ask for help in solving issues. It has also helped students as well as families as we come better prepared to work (Grade 4 team survey response). These comments provide important evidence that the intent and the model of the collaborative framework are helping teachers to align their work together to support student learning.

Figure 3. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Cycle

Reprinted from Transforming Schools Through Systems Change (p. 35), by C. Salina, S. Girtz, & J. Eppinga, 2016, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Copyright 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield. Reprinted with permission.


The cycle presented in Figure 3 and the earlier models (conceptual and action frameworks; see Figures 1 and 2) illustrate the process and the structures by which the Kennedy community organized the work, particularly in the professional learning teams and the grade-level and grade-band (K2, 34, 56) teams. These structures have been helpful for the instructional community to organize the work in the classrooms and throughout the school. This organization has also been helpful regarding the improved school culture at Kennedy.


The Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) conducts an annual survey, the Educational Effectiveness Survey, that has provided important data for comparison from the beginning of the project to the most recent data (Center for Educational Effectiveness, 2017). Two particular components align well to the school change goals and the logic model of the schooluniversity partnership project: (a) nine characteristics of high-performing schools and (b) organizational trust. The data presented next from these two components are important indicators of progress at Kennedy.

Table 4 provides longitudinal data from the results of the survey to staff at Kennedy elementary from 2013, 2015, and 2017. The data are presented for each of the characteristics based on the percentage of respondents who claimed that each characteristic was almost always true and often true in each of the years the survey was administered. Although there are limitations to these data, given that we do not have the same respondents year over year (as a result of staff turnover), they still provide a helpful profile of the school change process that has occurred over the life of the schooluniversity partnership project. In particular, from the initial data (2013) to the most recent data (2017), there have been improvements across all nine characteristics. Although the improvements were not as pronounced from 2015 to 2017 because there were slight declines in four characteristics, the data still illustrate a changed school culture following the projects inception. Of particular note are the three areas that saw the most improvement: collaboration and communication, high standards and expectations, and effective leadership. These are important data for this project given their alignment to the growth areas that were identified at the beginning of the project by the needs assessment.

Table 4. Kennedys Scores on Education Effectiveness Survey: 2013, 2015, and 2017

Nine Characteristics of High-Performing Schools










Collaboration and





Clear and Shared Focus




High Standards and





Effective Leadership




Supportive Learning





Parent and Community





Curriculum, Instruction,

and Assessment




Monitoring of Teaching

and Learning




Focused Professional





Note. Data provided by the Center for Educator Effectiveness (2017).


This is an area of great importance and satisfaction with respect to the goals that were set at the beginning of this project. Strong recommendations emerged from the comprehensive needs assessment with respect to organizational trust. This was one of the primary outcomes of the initial assessment process and was the driver behind the organizational and action frameworks that guided our planning and implementation. The data presented in Table 5 are the combined results from staff survey responses in the categories of almost always true and often true for each of the categories. Similar to the data presented in Table 4, there have been improvements across all five categories from 2013 to 2017. Although one category showed a decline and another was flat from 2015 to 2017, there was similar growth and improvement since the beginning of the project and across each two-year comparison (i.e., 20132015 and 20152017). The two areas of greatest growth are integrity (27-point improvement from 2013 to 2017) and benevolence/caring (21-point improvement from 2013 to 2017).  

Table 5. Kennedys Scores on Education Effectiveness Survey: 2013, 2015, and 2017

Organizational Trust































Note. Data provided by the Center for Educator Effectiveness (2017).

These data are some of the most encouraging for the Santos School–University Partnership Project team because they show consistent and broad improvement across the characteristics of high-performing schools and, most important, across all categories of organizational trust. This is particularly important because we believe that this school culture change could serve as a leading indicator for improved student academic, behavioral, and attendance performance.


As a result of the implementation described earlier, Kennedy has successfully developed and implemented systems of support for the areas of academic achievement, social support, and behavior management. By evaluating the effectiveness of each of these systems on a biweekly basis, the school has seen a decrease in office referrals and an increase in attendance.

Kennedy Attendance Data

A key data point that reflects progress at Kennedy is the improvement in the attendance of Kennedys students (see Table 6). The available data from a 3-year trend show improvement, and although the numbers are relatively flat at the satisfactory level, improvements are reflected in the trends across the other three categories. Increases in numbers in the at-risk category reflect corresponding reductions in the categories of moderate chronic and severe chronic nonattendance rates. We believe that these results are a reflection of the focus placed on improving attendance as a part of the school change process.

Table 6. Kennedy Elementary: Student Body Weekly Attendance Rates





Satisfactory (95%+)




At-risk (90%95%)




Moderate Chronic (80%90%)




Severe Chronic (< 80%)




Kennedy Elementary has implemented the first elementary attendance review board in Santos Public Schools. The team is composed of the school community specialist, administration, teachers, the school counselor, and parents/leaders in the community. Once a student has been identified as having attendance difficulties, the teams purpose is to find ways to support the family. The team meets with the family of the student who is having attendance issues to create a plan that will support the students success. As a result, students brought to this team have increased their attendance rates to an average of 95% weekly attendance. In support of the attendance review teams goals, Kennedy has collaborated with the Santos Regional Health District to implement the Walking School Bus. This is a program that relies on community volunteers to walk designated routes, picking up students along the way. This ensures on-time daily attendance, increases student safety, and engages our local community members in our mission to have a 95% attendance rate.

Kennedy Behavior Data

Figure 4 displays sample data from the implementation year through the last year of the grant. This figure illustrates the significant drop in the number of office referrals Kennedy experienced from the first year of implementation to the second. The drop in less serious disciplinary infractions each year is noteworthy. The drop in serious behavioral issues is less dramatic, yet still achieved a 35% reduction in incidents from 20132014 to 20172018. This occurred in spite of Kennedys addition of a classroom designated to serve the districts intermediate-level students requiring intensive behavior interventions. Behavioral health has been a key target area for the entire school staff, but more specifically for the administrative team members who are the caretakers of the 45-day planning process. The concentrated efforts in this area relate to the theory of change model that includes a focus on tiered behavioral supports for students.

Figure 4. Kennedy Weekly Discipline Referrals: 20132018



Student/Family Supports

Several other support services have been put in place for Kennedy students and families. The family and community liaison position was created to connect students and families to services in the community. This position coordinates the resource management team. Members of this team vary in expertise and work together to provide coordinated support to the most at-risk students. These members include three local mental health agencies. The team also works with local food banks, crisis shelters, and the public transportation office to serve the basic needs of Kennedys families. Along with these outside services, Kennedy uses a full-time mental health therapist on site to work with a number of students needing this service.

The family and community liaison also supports two specific school-based activity programs: the Parent Connections program, and initiatives and activities coordinated by the family/community professional learning team. Parent Connections is a monthly program, provided for the various grade levels, that invites parents into the school to learn about the curricula their students are using, particularly in math and literacy. Parents are invited to the school in the morning to engage in the following activities: (a) participating in a learning activity led by the math or literacy coach and the parent liaisons, with time allowed for parents questions; (b) inviting their child into the setting to do the previously learned activity together; (c) spending time after the activity reading with their child (all families receive a book to take home that is  age- and reading-level appropriate); (d) enjoying a snack together before the students return to their classrooms. This program has been growing in popularityso much so that the most recent Parent Connections event was the largest ever, with nearly 30 families, who collectively outgrew the space and snack resources available. Engagement levels in these events represent an important piece of the targeted change process: increased family engagement.

The parent/community professional learning team, a standing committee that meets monthly, also reflects increased levels of community engagement. This committee includes a cross-section of school and university personnel, as well as family members, neighbors, and representatives from organizations situated in the neighborhood or from organizations that are involved in providing wraparound services for the students and families in the Kennedy community. This group is both advisory, in that members help shape the vision of the school as related to providing coordinated supports to students and families, and action oriented, in that action teams within the professional learning team take on specific initiatives and activities as they surface. This group has grown in both family membership and community agency membership, again evidencing an improving culture of family and community engagement. The membership has grown through both outreach efforts and growing awareness of this team. As community and family members have become aware of the work, increasing requests to participate have followed.

Extended Learning Opportunities

The third year of grant implementation (20152016) included a significant ramp-up of the extended learning opportunity program. During the prior year, extended learning opportunity services reached 90 students during the spring semester. These students were identified as being below grade level in either math or English language arts by their teachers and were referred to the program as a result. When examining the data from the 20142015 standardized test scores, Kennedy staff decided to focus the first round of extended learning opportunity sessions on serving students who performed near standard in the area of literacy. Once this screening plan was in place, the extended learning opportunity team examined the scores of first- and second-grade students on the Developmental Reading Assessment (second edition, Pearson, 2006). Students who were performing below grade level, according to their spring 2015 Developmental Reading Assessment scores, were referred for participation in the extended learning opportunity. In planning for the 20152016 year, this opportunity was extended to all students interested in participating, regardless of standardized test scores. As a result, nearly 300 students were involved 3 days per week for an additional 2 hours after school. This growth also created an additional opportunity to increase the numbers of university teacher education candidates in the school through their involvement in the extended learning opportunity program. The structure of the extended learning opportunity program has followed the same format since inception. The first hour is academic, and the second hour is enrichment. Enrichment activities include disc golf, sculpting, scrapbooking, and other engaging activities. By attaching enrichment activities to the extended learning opportunity, we significantly increased and retained attendance. This also provided teacher candidates with opportunities for mentorship through more interest-focused interactions.

The extended learning opportunities in mathematics made several shifts in the winter/spring of 20162017. The first was to structure the dedicated mathematics time to align with developing fluency in the domains of number and operations and algebraic thinking through using games. Additionally, a faculty member provided training for Bellarmine and Knox candidates to provide knowledge and skills order to support the successful use of the games during the extended learning opportunity time. In addition, the sessions focused on supporting Kennedys students with skills for solving contextual problems using problem structures. This exemplifies our continued intent to align extended learning opportunity activities with grade-level curricula.


Three key components framed the work of our preparation programs: (a) saturation/coteaching, (b) field-situated methodology, and (c) community teacher. These components have evolved throughout the life of the project. In particular, we found that we were not able to sustain the saturation model. Over time, we have had fewer teacher candidates placed as student teachers at Kennedy for several reasons. The following are examples that drove these actions. (1) Teacher turnover: This prevented us from placing candidates in classrooms where the new teacher did not have the required 3 years of experience, and/or we did not want to place a candidate with a teacher during his or her first year in the building. (2) Student teacher/mentor teacher match: After having early challenges with respect to the match between a teacher candidate and a cooperating teacher, we implemented a matching process that included a school visit and interview in the spring before the full-year internship. Although this improved our matching process, it limited placements to those that all agreed were a good fit. (3) Fatigue: Some teachers found that they needed a break from the responsibility of managing and supervising an additional adult in his or her classroom. Conversely, although the described evolution described reduced the numbers of masters in teaching candidates placed as student teachers, it corresponded to an increase in the saturation of Kennedy with candidates involved in the development and delivery of the extended learning opportunity program. Similarly, the field-situated math methods course was not part of the original model, but emerged as a Bellarmine faculty member became involved in the extended learning opportunity work and pursued the placement of her math methods course within three classrooms at one grade level (Grade 2). The field-situated literacy methods course continued to train 20 teachers per semester on site; however, their reach, from one grade to multiple grades, expanded to additional classrooms.

Following is a snapshot of the type of collaboration and engagement the site-based coursework engendered. The on-site mathematics methods course included 10 students in spring 2016 and eight students in fall 2016 working with the second-grade teaching team. By situating the course in the field, the teacher candidates learn to focus on eliciting and responding to student thinking through mathematical discourse (McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanaugh, 2013).  In addition, Kennedy teachers, Bellarmine teacher candidates, and the instructor develop high-leverage practices together, resulting in a shared understanding and approach to mathematics instruction both in the classroom and in the extended learning opportunity setting. This initiative took an additional step toward increasing the capacity by joint attendance at an NCTM Interactive Institute in the summer of 2016. As a team, they had opportunities to broaden their pedagogical content knowledge around numbers and operations. In addition, the mathematics teaching practices outlines in Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014) became a common frame to investigate and develop mathematical instructional practices of the in-service, preservice, and university teacher educators within the context of the Kennedy second-grade classrooms.

Mentor Teacher Communication and Support

A significant area of need that emerged during the early years of our partnership was the need for improved communication with, and support of, the cooperating teachers with whom we place candidates. Toward this end, and as a result of conversations with Kennedys teachers around the school change process described earlier, we have made several modifications:


Change in communication frequency and structure


Development and delivery of a Mentor Academy (described in detail in the following paragraph)


Increase in the number of individual and group check-in meetings with cooperating teachers


Increase in the number of group check-in consultations with masters in teaching (MIT) candidates via the MIT professional learning team meetings


Having only a single supervisor from each university serve the student teaching interns at Kennedy


Devoting additional time to orientation and follow-up interactions between the candidates and the school administration

During 2015-2016, in response to the reported need for increased mentor support, we implemented a Mentor Academy. In spring 2015, university faculty worked with state-level professionals (who were primarily focused on training mentors to work with new in-service teachers) to adapt an existing training model to meet the needs of mentors working with preservice teachers. This model is based on the work of Lipton and Wellman (2003, 2013) on mentoring and learning-focused relationships. Five core beliefs grounded the training program:


The heart of our work is student and candidate learning.


Effective teaching requires a sophisticated set of learned skills.


Candidates are novices who learn in differing ways and at different rates.


Skillful use of coplanning and coteaching creates an environment that supports student and teacher learning.


Candidates learn to teach by working in real classrooms, receiving feedback, and then reflecting on their work. Cooperating teachers make this happen.

During summer 2015, a two-day summer training session was held at the school site for all interested mentors and staff. This intensive training session was revisited and extended during follow-up sessions in the fall and winter, for a total of 18 hours of training; included were cooperating teachers, Kennedys teachers who werent currently mentoring a student teaching intern, and administrators and university supervisors.

Figure 5 shows select comments from the mentors that help highlight the impact that we believe this training can have not only in our partnership efforts at Kennedy, but also in the other schools where we place candidates. These comments show a changed perception as a result of the Mentor Academy.

Figure 5. Sample Comments from Mentors After Completing the 2015 Mentor Academy

I used to think having a candidate meant&

Now I think having a candidate means&

& that I would be helping them learn about teaching.

& that I will be learning just as much!

& I was responsible entirely for their experience being successful.

&we are on this journey together for the success of each other and the students.

&the weight was solely on my shoulders.

&the responsibility is shared.

&being an expert.

&being a collaborator.

&having another adult in my classroom to support students.

&growing another professional and a colleague

Additionally, candidates reported that after each of these training sessions, their mentor teachers seemed to have a renewed enthusiasm for coteaching. The mentors expressed to their candidates that they were buoyed by the networking opportunities to share common questions and learn effective strategies. As one teacher intern stated, My mentor returned from these trainings motivated to practice the mentoring skills she had acquired. We are hopeful that this practice will have a continued positive influence on the learning environment for teachers, teacher candidates, and the students they serve. Furthermore, the skills the cooperating teachers are developing are the same skills needed for mentoring new teachers through the induction process. Consequently, this professional development may positively impact the ability of experienced in-service teachers to onboard their newest colleagues in the years ahead.


As discussed in the literature review (Phelps, 2019, this issue) that preceded the site articles, a key component of partnership work and collective impact efforts in general, and schooluniversity partnerships more specifically, is that complexity is a key feature of these types of initiatives. The preceding narrative outlining the model and associated activities helps to illustrate this complexity. What follows in this conclusion is a more thoughtful reflection on some of the learnings that have emerged from this experience.


From the very outset of the project, the initial needs assessment shined a bright light on issues related to relational trust at Kennedy Elementary. This is an area where there appears to have been progress that is both recognized by the individuals involved in the entirety of the project and indicated by the CEE data. The growth that these data have shown across all categories in the two separate surveys (Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools and Organizational Trust) is a promising indicator of success for the Santos SchoolUniversity Partnership Project. Although the data indicated improvement across all data points from 2013 to 2017, areas were flat or down slightly from 2015 to 2017, reminding us that issues related to the school change process require ongoing efforts to continually improve.


The initial model included a saturation focus, which involved the intention of having as many student teaching interns placed at Kennedy as was feasible. This feasibility issue became more acute as the project progressed and led to an evolution of the partnership, such that this vision was not fully realized; we actually had fewer student teaching candidates placed at Kennedy in the final grant years. Following the initial year of placements, which included two separate situations in which the teacher candidate was pulled from the classroom because of interpersonal issues and general challenges with fit regarding working with the cooperating teachers, we developed a more robust matching process. This process included interviews with the teacher candidate, first by the principal and then by the classroom teachers. Although this process led, in part, to fewer candidate placements, it strengthened confidence in the placement match quality and decreased the frequency of having to remove a candidate or assign him or her a different placement. In addition to this process, that there was a large amount of attrition in the staff (more than two thirds of the staff changed over the course of the grant period) made for fewer available classrooms in which to place teachers. New hires to the school were often ineligible to host a student teaching intern because of the requirement that mentor teachers have at least three years of certificated teaching experience. In addition, a few teachers were unwilling to host a teacher candidate or were uninterested in doing so; reasons included fatigue from having hosted a teacher candidate for several successive years, or perceiving that they were being forced because of the grant to do so, which also contributed to the decreased ability to saturate with teacher candidates.

Although the decrease in student teaching placements decreased our ability to pursue the vision of saturation that was a key component of our model, we were actually able to exceed our initial footprint through other aligned initiatives. Specifically, the delivery of field-situated methodology courses (math and literacy) and the increasing participation of teacher candidates in the extended learning opportunity program, in addition to placing education candidates in shorter practica experiences at Kennedy, have resulted in greater numbers of students from the universities participating in the targeted work at the school.

It should be noted, however, that the saturation model provided a sense of comradery and being a part of something that has remained a consistent theme in the teacher candidate professional learning team discussions over the years, even when we were not able to fully implement the model. The model of having peer support and a mechanism for communication and collaboration through the professional learning team was also a part of the experience that candidates embraced and highlighted in discussions and reflections. The candidates at Kennedy agreed that an internship at this site was more complex and time intensive than that of their peers placed in other school settings. However, they were also quick to note that this came with increased opportunities for collaboration, professional development, instructional leadership, and community engagement, making an internship in this setting the envy of many of their cohort-mates. In addition, the teacher candidates who were involved in the schooluniversity partnership project at Kennedy noted the powerful hands-on experience they gained by participating, often in leadership roles, in the extended learning opportunity program. This was an experience in which the vision of providing additional student supports to Kennedys students and providing learning experiences for the teacher candidates came together in a very positive and synergistic way. Serving large numbers of students outside the school day was made possible by the teacher candidates involvement. While they were able to provide these additional instructional and interactional experiences for Kennedys students, they were also gaining instructional and interactional skills as future classroom teachers. Teacher candidates consistently described the experience as being valuable to their confidence and classroom management skills, largely because it was an authentic and meaningful experience for Kennedys students made possible because of the teacher candidates efforts.


Organizing and aligning the work of large and sophisticated organizations is never an easy task, and partnership work between schools and universities falls squarely in this category. Developing a shared vision and expectations along with a mechanism to review and revise the work of the partnership is a key learning. At times, we found ourselves drifting back to our own contexts (either the university or the elementary school) in such a way that would nearly lead to a breakdown in communication or alignment of activities. This reflection caused our team to reengage the mechanisms for collaboration and coordination through the structures of the professional learning teams, action teams, and leadership teams that we created in the early stages of our planning and implementation.

A final and fundamental component of communication and collaboration is the personnel involved in these efforts, and so the stability of personnel involved in partnership projects is an important variable. Personnel matter to both stability and progress. Our partnership began the final year of the grant with the fourth grant manager at Kennedy in six years while also having dealt with two different principals and five different assistant principals. These types of personnel changes are common features of large school districts, but they also have the potential to complicate the development and delivery of partnership projects with fidelity and continuity.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 12, 2019, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22928, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 10:27:25 PM

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About the Author
  • John Traynor
    Gonzaga University
    E-mail Author
    JOHN TRAYNOR is associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Gonzaga University. He teaches in the undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs and has had an active role in developing and managing partnership efforts between institutions of higher education, K–12 schools, and community-based organizations. Dr. Traynor’s research focuses on the preservice teacher preparation, particularly in clinical settings, and partnership and collective impact efforts in support of K–12 student development. As an applied researcher, he works with individual schools to develop academic service learning and community engagement learning experiences.
  • Deborah Tully
    Whitworth University
    E-mail Author
    DEBORAH TULLY is associate professor in the School of Education at Whitworth University. Dr. Tully received her master’s degree in special education from the University of San Diego and her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Washington State University. Her background includes general and special education teaching and administration in public school settings, instruction in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing studies university programs, the development and implementation of an accelerated delivery model of teacher preparation for working adults, and service as the associate dean for teacher preparation and school partnerships. Her educational experience and research passions center on preparing educators to serve and support the whole child through curricular and instructional approaches in order to provide specialized and personalized learning; enhance cultural intelligence; and promote social, emotional, and character development. Additionally, Dr. Tully’s work involves engagement with school and community partners to simultaneously advance the education profession while improving P–12 learning.
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