Jan. 23, 2004
UW-RF and PK-16 Members Strive for Quality Education
By Sarah Matara
UW-RF News Bureau
Ensuring that children receive a quality education is a cornerstone of American society and at UW-River Falls, it is of the utmost importance.
Members of the UW-RF faculty have joined forces with area educators to ensure that quality education continues and improves by forming a PK-16 Council.
A PK-16 council is a voluntary body composed of educational leaders and teachers from pre-kindergarten through college level that meet to create a seamless education system. Their goal is to promote access to education, student achievement, excellent teaching standards and lifelong learning.
The objective is to improve communication between school districts, universities and colleges and technical colleges so everyone knows the needs of the other.
Members of a PK-16 council believe that the quality of higher education is directly affected by the quality of PK-12 education, and the quality of a student's learning is directly affected by the quality of teaching.
The main goals for the PK-16 Council include building a statewide network for increased collaboration, information sharing and cooperation; increasing student readiness to succeed in postsecondary education by improving the quality of PK-12 teacher preparation and professional development; and aligning high academic standards for PK-12 students with postsecondary education.
Twenty-four states are participating in statewide PK-16 efforts. The UW System Board of Regents developed PK-16 initiatives in response to the 2000 UW System Economic Summit, where a main focus of the summit was the role of quality education in the advancement of the economic vitality of Wisconsin.
In 2002, UW-River Falls expanded the existing St. Croix Valley Education Partnership into the Greater St. Croix Valley PK-16 Council. There are 25-30 working members.
The organization is comprised of teachers, principals, central office administrators and school board members from 16 area school districts; representatives from CESA 11, the Department of Public Instruction and Chippewa Valley and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical Colleges; selected UW-RF teacher education and arts and sciences faculty; deans, Provost Ginny Coombs and Chancellor Ann Lydecker.
Dean Connie Foster of the College of Education and Professional Studies said the PK-16 partnership between educators is vital to the education system.
"In order to train quality teachers, we have to know what schools need and what we should be doing to provide them with quality teachers."
The Council focuses on four priority issues: common in-service training, new teacher mentoring, PI-34 implementation for teacher certification, and the literacy/numeracy institute.
Common in-service gives smaller school districts the chance to pool their resources for training and professional development that an individual district could not provide.
Foster uses the example of a small school district that has one art instructor. Through PK-16, the art instructor can attend a class or a workshop with other art instructors from other school districts and gain the opportunity of exchanging ideas and resources that he or she otherwise would not have had.
New teacher mentoring pairs experienced teachers with teachers just entering the profession to provide insight and advice.
Mary Manke, assistant dean of the UW-RF College of Education and Professional Studies, said that new teachers are more likely to stay in teaching if they have someone to confide in.
"Forty percent or more teachers leave after five years of teaching. With someone to turn to, they are more likely to stay," Manke said.
PI-34 is a relatively new rule in Wisconsin that governs the qualifications for the licensure of teachers. Currently, teachers are required to take six credits of classes every five years. Under the new requirements for the PI-34 rule, teachers must outline how they are going to improve their teaching and develop professionally in five-year increments. For new teachers, a University faculty member must mentor them for one year. Manke said it should be for longer, but someone has to train the mentors.
The concept of the literacy/numeracy institute is related to the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law that requires all children to be evaluated through standardized tests to see if they are making sufficient progress, especially in reading and arithmetic.
If school districts cannot show that their students are making sufficient progress, there can be severe penalties. The PK-16 Council will assist teachers to know how to ensure that kids are making adequate progress.
Manke said that these initiatives are in the early planning stages.
"There are big changes in the education of teachers and children. We need to do a lot of planning and thinking in order to ensure that we are doing what the laws require."
UW-RF develops and provides quality, innovative workshops, classes and certification programs for teachers dedicated to developing professionally and lifelong learning. The programs are practical, flexible, convenient, affordable and offered in various locations.
Teachers and students may take classes for credit only without being enrolled in a graduate degree or certificate program.
For those interested in pursuing a master's degree, UW-RF offers a master of science in agricultural education and a master of science in education-elementary education, fine arts, literature, communication and language arts, math, reading or sciences. Classes can be taken in the summer.
Various workshops are also scheduled periodically. One held this semester, titled "Surviving the High School Musical," provided teachers with information on choosing the right play, coaching vocalists and choreographing scenes.
Self-paced and distance learning courses allow teachers to take courses at their own pace, whenever it is convenient for them. Some can be taken online, while others require access to a television and VCR.
One example is a course titled "Increasing Student Self-Esteem," where teachers learn to recognize the causes of low self-esteem, build students' self-esteem and motivate students to reach their potential.
UW-RF also offers certificate and licensure programs in learning disabilities, principal licensure and reading.
The University has also been host to a PK-16 Model Academy, in which teams of university faculty and PK-12 teachers plan how to work together on improving certain content areas. The first academy held at UW-RF was in 2001. Manke said it was a huge success and it helped teachers and University faculty forge enduring partnerships to ensure that students receive quality education at all levels. In 2004, the academy will look at music, art and modern languages.
For more information on PK-16 Council activities, contact Foster at 715/425-3774. For information concerning classes, programs or registration materials, contact the Graduate Studies office 715/425-3843 or visit http://www.uwrf.edu/outreach.
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