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January 23, 2013

Avondale, OU to open new laboratory school this fall

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — The Avondale School District and Oakland University will open an elementary school this fall that will allow OU students preparing for careers in education to work directly with teachers and children in the district.

Avondale Schools Superintendent George Heitsch said the school, tentatively named the Oakland University/Avondale Magnet Lab School, has been in the works for the past year.

“The partnership started with a couple conversations that got us wondering ‘what if’ — what if we worked together to help educate students and thought about teacher preparation the way you think about medical education. That’s really what kind of started the conversation,” he said.

Officials considered a couple of schools in the district for the new home of the laboratory school, but Auburn Elementary made the most sense, according to Heitsch.

“There is available space at Auburn Elementary, from a physical standpoint. There are classrooms that we can open up to increase the capacity of the building, and we don’t have to do any reconfiguring,” he said.

The school, which will be an Avondale School of Choice, is slated to open in September for students in kindergarten through third grade, but officials plan to add grade levels gradually over the years.

The goals of the laboratory school, according to Heitsch, are to implement best practices for student learning, provide student-teacher education and teacher-to-teacher mentoring, and offer the opportunity to attract families interested in a dynamic learning and teaching delivery model.

Heitsch compared the school’s operation to a teaching hospital affiliated with a medical school.

“The school is designed to be a clinical model for teacher education, much like Beaumont is a clinical model for medical education. So the partnership will involve students from Oakland University that are in the College of Education working with our staff and our students at Auburn Elementary. The work that will happen will be focused around teacher leadership, cultures of thinking and visible thinking so that both the university and the staff at Auburn Elementary are engaged in that work,” he said.

Heitsch said the district will benefit from the expertise of OU faculty, who will share research and best practices.

“The benefit across Avondale is just the capacity that Oakland University brings to us from an intellectual standpoint from the study of education. This is the perfect marriage of theory and practice for us,” he said.

OU will also offer counseling, nursing, social work and School of Medicine services to students and families in the school and throughout the district, as part of the partnership.

Louis Gallien, dean of the Oakland’s School of Education and Human Services, said in a statement that his team of educators and researchers are eager to contribute to the laboratory school.

“The opportunity to create a laboratory school right in Oakland University’s backyard and to join with the highly qualified teaching staff at Avondale presents a learning and teaching environment that has multiple benefits to the district, the community and OU student teachers and faculty,” Gallien said in a statement. “This is a leading approach to education that has few equivalents in Michigan or throughout the country.”

As far as the next steps, Heitsch said officials plan to host meetings, likely in late February or early March, to share more information with Avondale families and staff, as well as external families who may be interested in the project.

“Other than that, all the steps that we take before that opening day in September, we don’t know yet,” he said.

Those who are interested in learning more are asked to keep an eye on the district’s website, www.avondale.k12.mi.us, which officials will update with information as the project unfolds.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.