The University of Rochester and the Greece Central School District have agreed to another in a series of multi-year partnerships that will draw on the expertise of graduate school faculty to help educators rethink current school and classroom practices.
The partners last month announced an inclusive education project, known as "Understanding Disability and Transforming Schools." The project involves three central components: 1) faculty members of the University's Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development are supporting and consulting with the district in its transition from special education classes to inclusive schooling; 2) teachers in the Greece district will be able to pursue a master's degree at the Warner School with a new focus on inclusive education; and 3) Greece educators will support and collaborate on the research and fieldwork of Warner faculty and doctoral students.
The master's program, which was designed in collaboration with Greece, will focus on rethinking assumptions and beliefs about disabilities and traditional special education practices and prepare educators to teach all children in their classrooms. Social justice issues, including disability, will be infused throughout the curriculum. Some courses will require that students develop relevant fieldwork to lay the groundwork for the inclusive education model that Greece schools are planning.
"Greece's approach to inclusive education is visionary," said Philip Wexler, dean of the Warner School. "Rather than look for the easiest fix, they are engaging in a significant self-examination to produce curricular, instructional, organizational, and cultural change within the district."
Warner faculty members Linda Ware and Susan Hetherington, along with graduate assistant Michael Baker, are working closely with Greece to ensure the success of its inclusive education initiative. Ware is directing the research component of the project, and Hetherington is the project's director.
Ware, whose work focuses on disability and inclusive education, is passionate in her efforts to help local schools develop inclusive classrooms where students with diverse abilities can have their needs met alongside students with greater or lesser abilities. For students with disabilities, the greatest challenge is acceptance.
"Historical and contemporary media accounts of disability depict the experience as one of tragedy and pity, with little attention to understanding disability as part of the human experience," Ware said. "Schools have an important role to play in changing attitudes about disability, and this won't change until we abandon the mindset that only certain types of professionals can work with certain types of students."
The partnership that has evolved between the Greece District and the Warner School is a dynamic collaboration that is challenging both to reexamine their practices and programs to ensure that they are meeting the needs of children, their teachers, and school leaders.
Other Greece-Warner initiatives include a mathematics reform project and a special certificate program for experienced teachers who want to move into administrative leadership positions in the Greece schools.
"All of these projects involve a research institution engaged in a collaboration to seriously change educational practice," said Wexler. "With Greece-and in all our work with schools-we want to promote educational change by bringing together theory, research and practice in a way that supports student learning and achievement."
The mathematics reform project, which also involves the Rochester, Penfield, and Brighton school districts, is funded by a New York state Eisenhower professional development grant awarded to the Warner School last fall. The five-year project engages K-12 teachers in a series of integrated professional development activities and follow-up field experiences to understand the vision for school mathematics informing the new state educational standards and to put them into practice in their teaching.
The new administrative certification program, which Greece was instrumental in helping the Warner School to create, is a 21-hour program for teachers who have already earned their master's degree. The program, which began this year, is designed to help meet the growing shortage of school administrators by advancing experienced teachers in the district to administrative positions. Twelve Greece teachers are currently enrolled in the administrative certification program at the Warner School, and another dozen have begun coursework.
"The Warner School is deeply committed to our partnership with Greece," reported Wexler. "Greece teachers are enriching our educational programs and advancing critical research in school reform."
The Warner School (on the Web at www.rochester.edu/warner/) offers master's degree and doctoral degree programs in the areas of teaching and curriculum, counseling and human development, and educational leadership.