Plymouth School District and UW-Green Bay celebrate decade-long continuing education partnership
UW-Green Bay and the Plymouth School District marked a milestone in May 2018 — a unique, mutually beneficial relationship that has supported educators for nearly a decade.
At a time when many teachers reach into their own pockets for materials to enhance the learning for their students, and districts are looking to stretch or trim operating budgets, the Plymouth Joint School District continues to promote and fully fund tuition and textbooks for its teachers who participate in UW-Green Bay’s master’s program for Applied Leadership in Teaching and Learning.
Rare collaborative opportunity
“It’s extremely rare for a school district to be so supportive of a program like this,” said Tim Kaufman, chair of the UW-Green Bay graduate program in Education. “Everyone in the Plymouth district, from administration to the school board has been committed to this from the beginning. It’s only grown stronger over the years.”
“We believe strongly in collaboration,” said Dan Mella, assistant superintendent for the district. “This arrangement allows us to bring the rigor of a master’s-level program to our campus and tailor it to the needs of our educators.” Open to pre-K to grade 12 teachers, registration is limited to a cohort of 20 students with six-hour classes on Saturdays, over a two-year period. “The educators meet the credit-hour requirements of the University’s graduate program; and we’re able to deliver it in a convenient and collaborative way,” Mella says.
That collaborative attitude carries into the structure of the classroom itself, where classes are co-taught by faculty from UW-Green Bay and Plymouth.
“In many settings, whether it’s a classroom or a boardroom, you would anticipate the environment to be a bit chilled by the presence of ‘the top brass,’” said Kaufman. “In this case, the culture is so collaborative, so empowering of frontline employees, that there’s no chilling effect at all.”
Win-win for Plymouth schools and UW-Green Bay
Don’t think for a minute that the district’s commitment stems from pure altruism. Mella says it gets at least as much as it gives. “Educators work in teams. We don’t direct them, but we ask that their work benefit the children in our district. We share it so it becomes part of the broader curriculum. That makes us all better teachers. And that produces better students.” The program, Mella says, is also used as a selling point to new candidates and is a “major plus in climate studies.”
“The most valuable thing to me was working with fellow Plymouth instructors to create something that was valuable to my own teaching as well as to our district,” said Beau Biller, technology education instructor. He was one of three teammates to research and develop a new technology-focused math course aimed at students not headed for four-year universities.
“There are excellent math course offerings at Plymouth for students who plan to enter a four-year university,” explained Darren Munson, a math instructor. “We felt there weren’t adequate math courses to meet the needs of students who would be pursuing career, military or technical college options.”
“And this was another collaboration,” added Jack Daniels, a math and computer sciences instructor at Plymouth and the third member of the team. “Through the process of implementing the new courses, we were able to collaborate with Lakeshore Technical College to offer these new courses for technical college math credit.”
Language Arts teachers Sarah Paff and Keely Mey, have had similar experiences with the program.
“Keely and I have both benefited personally and in our careers from the process of reflection,” Paff says. “As partners in the program, we wondered if reflection would help our students to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to learn from their experiences in and out of school. We did some research and found there was little out there about student reflection at the fifth-grade level,” said Mey. “We developed a journal-based, self-reflection program based on teacher-led questions around student motivation, student-teacher relationships, future focus, healthy lifestyle, social skills, self-worth, self-knowledge, relationships and academics.”
“Now we have teachers at multiple grade levels incorporating reflective practices into their classrooms,” said Paff. “It looks different from classroom to classroom, but we have many students in our district developing critical thinking skills through reflection.”
Room for replication
Kaufman said the Plymouth model could be replicated in other districts. In fact, some districts use part of the curriculum, but no one has the level of commitment that Plymouth has. “This program develops leadership within the teachers,” he said. “That plays out in the classroom and elsewhere. Some administrations would feel threatened by that, but Plymouth embraces it. They’re secure enough to empower teachers to take risks. So far, they feel that’s paying off.”
“And for me,” Kaufmann reflects, “it’s my best experience as an educator.”
This story by Jim Streed ‘05 originally appear in the Spring/Summer issue of Inside Magazine.