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Administrators OK revamping of University School

February 11th, 2007 11:06 pm by SAM WATSON

JOHNSON CITY - A new University School is emerging at East Tennessee State University.

Administrators recently gave the Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education the green light to revamp the K-12 laboratory school in part with a special emphasis in math and science starting next school year. The process also could eventually mean a new building for one of the university's longest-running programs.

"We're about to celebrate our 100th anniversary in a couple of years, and just about the only entity that shares that 100-year history is University School," ETSU Education Dean Hal Knight said. "University School is just part and parcel of what I would say the heart and soul of the university is.

"With the university's growth and diversification, University School is not the major piece it was when we were a normal school, but that's why we're redefining what University School's role is in this more diversified university that looks at helping the citizens of the region in lots of different ways."

Established as a training lab when ETSU opened as a teacher-preparation institution in 1911, University School is a publicly funded entity operated on campus by the College of Education.

ETSU receives instructional funding, including state appropriations, via Washington County.

Serving about 525 K-12 students drawn from several districts in the area, the school continues to provide experience for ETSU students while examining curriculum innovations, such as the year-round calendar it began in 1997.

In 2005, ETSU commissioned the "ReVisioning" Committee, a 19-member panel composed of school and community representatives, to develop blueprints for University School's future.

In keeping with the committee's report, leaders have been redesigning the school's curricula for the math and science emphasis, along with strong technology and global learning components, this school year. Faculty members have worked with ETSU's new Center of Excellence for Mathematics and Science Education to design the programs.

Signature schools differ from magnet schools in that signature schools include no academic entrance requirements. Knight said the approach would allow University School to demonstrate how methods work for students with a wide range of backgrounds and academic abilities rather than just those who excel.

"We have an obligation to the state to show that things can be done differently in math and science education," Knight said. "We're in a state where children are not performing well in mathematics and science, and we have the resources to figure out how to make that better."

The college plans to launch the signature school at the start of the new school year in July when students return from summer break.

Once the signature programs are in place, officials will start forming proposals toward a modern facility to house the school, another objective outlined in the committee's report.

University School is located in ETSU's Alexander Hall, a 78-year-old classroom building lacking amenities for modern instruction.

School officials wanted academic models in place before planning a building. University School Director Deborah DeFrieze said if the curriculum illustrates a need for science labs, for example, so should the facilities plan.

"We don't want the facility to dictate the curriculum," Knight said. "We want the curriculum to dictate the facility."

Given that University School is somewhat rooted in two camps - K-12 schooling and higher education - ETSU leaders have struggled over the years with where to turn for facilities funding. Knight said officials were exploring public funding possibilities at the state and local levels, including multiple partnerships, as well as private sources.

After the facilities planning stage, the college plans to formally launch a fund-raising campaign for the school as already outlined in ETSU's "Reaching Higher" overall capital fund-raising campaign.

In addition to the math and science objectives, officials also want University School to be fully integrated into other ETSU academic disciplines with implications for school-age children beyond the College of Education.

"We want to be the first thought of anybody on campus when it comes to creating a model for all kids in the state of Tennessee and maybe beyond," DeFrieze said. "That was our original purpose anyway - to be a model school."

If ETSU's new College of Public Health conducts research about the nutritional needs of children in the region, for example, University School would be the first stop.

"So, I really think it's bringing the university up to the 21st century in terms of a more expanded role in working with children, whether we are talking about the education of children or children and their lives," Knight said.

Any university involvement would not only serve research goals, but also have direct meaning for University School's students.

"The first question we ask whenever we do anything is ‘Does this benefit students?' " DeFrieze said.

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