Olathe School District celebrates milestone in teacher education

05/17/2013 12:00 AM

05/20/2014 10:44 AM

Twenty years ago, the Olathe School District and Emporia State University began a partnership that has changed the way students majoring in elementary education learn to become teachers.

In 1993, the school district and university formed a Professional Development School to give Emporia students real-world experience in the classroom.

At a recent 20th anniversary celebration for the Professional Development School, past participants and leaders from the school district and university reflected on the success of the program. It all started with dinner between two administrators from the Olathe School District and two from Emporia State University. Before the night was over, a preliminary concept for the Professional Development School had been sketched out on a cocktail napkin.

“It was like building a plane and flying it at the same time,” Olathe’s Deputy Superintendent Alison Banikowski said.

“This was way ahead of our time,” former Emporia State University Dean Tes Mehring said.

The concept was simple: to prepare teachers the way physicians are prepared. Emporia students who were accepted into the Professional Development School program would spend their last year in Olathe taking classes. They would also spend the entire year as an intern at an Olathe elementary school working side-by-side with a mentor teacher. By the second semester, interns would essentially be living the life of a first-year teacher, doing everything from lesson planning to teaching the class.

This was not your typical student teaching model. Jean Morrow of Emporia State University relocated to Olathe to become the first coordinator for the Professional Development School.

“It was approved in November and we had to be up and running by August,” Morrow said. “It was a fascinating year. I loved it.”

Stacy Shipley, principal of Woodland Elementary in Olathe, was a Professional Development School intern in 1995. She credits the program for helping to prepare her for her first teaching job 18 years ago.

“It walked you through the teaching profession from beginning to end,” Shipley said. “I saw my mentor teacher take the class through a cycle of learning. The model it provided was a high level of excellence and that motivated me to perform at that level.”

After being hired by the Olathe School District, Shipley later went on to serve as a mentor teacher herself and eventually became the principal of Countryside Elementary, one of the schools where Professional Development School interns get their start.

In 1993, the Professional Development School began with 20 interns. Today, that number has risen to about 50 a year, indication that the collaboration between the Olathe School District and Emporia State has definitely paid off.

“The awesome part is to see our faculty and the teachers from Olathe form a true partnership,” said Ken Weaver, dean of the Emporia State University Teachers College.

Earl Martin, who retired from the Olathe School District and now directs Emporia’s Professional Development School partnership with Johnson County Community College, says the real winners are the students of the Olathe School District.

“Every time you have two adults in a class that can pay attention to the needs of students, those students benefit tremendously,” Martin said.

School district officials say the Professional Development School program has helped thousands of students. About 574 interns have passed through the program during the last 20 years.

Emporia State University was the first college in the state to create a Professional Development School and it has served as a model for other institutions all over the country.

The Professional Development School has received several national awards. It has also led Emporia to develop other Professional Development School partnerships with Butler Community College, and Kansas City, Kan., Community College in addition to Johnson County Community College.

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