“Professional development schools have been around since the late 1980s,” said Day. “We started ours in 1991, so this is our twentieth anniversary.” Day was instrumental in refining Buffalo State’s PDS consortium model. Today, 45 schools throughout Western New York belong to the consortium, including 21 schools in the city of Buffalo, 18 of which are Buffalo Public Schools. The purpose of the PDS is to establish a collaboration of college faculty members, teachers, and administrators in the participating schools; teacher candidates studying at Buffalo State; and the young students in the schools. Together, they develop highly qualified teachers; provide professional development to practicing teachers, administrators, and professors; improve the learning of young students; and conduct research to continuously improve learning outcomes for students as well as competencies among practitioners.
The PDS consortium enables Buffalo State to provide clinically rich experiences to all exceptional education and elementary education majors. “Our teacher candidates have extensive, supported experience in real classrooms, in the real world,” said Nancy Chicola, chair of Elementary Education and Reading. “Supported experience” means that college faculty members are on site in participating schools, where they present methods-of-teaching classes, oversee student teachers, and provide a resource for professional development for classroom teachers. As early as sophomore year, teacher candidates observe in classrooms, shadow teachers, and tutor students. In one year, these Buffalo State teacher candidates typically teach and support the learning of 22,000 young students in the PDS consortium’s schools.
“Another value we provide to our partner schools is action research,” said Chicola. “Such research is driven by the needs of the school.” This research enables schools to benefit through collaboration with Buffalo State faculty members. One such project addressed the issue of parents who wanted the best for their children, but who were anxious about attending school events. After studying the problem, the school presented a literacy fair for families of young students. The event drew an increasing number of guests every year. Today, that school district, as well as many other schools, presents annual family events. Funding for the action research comes from Buffalo State; the School of Education donated a faculty line to support the PDS, which in turn funds six to 12 research projects annually.
To be eligible for the NAPDS award for Exemplary Professional Development School Achievement, applicants had to demonstrate excellence in nine essentials established by NAPDS. The criteria promote sustained, genuine, collaborative partnerships between the college and pre-K through grade 12 schools.
In formulating the PDS structure, Day and the PDS advisory board followed not only the nine essentials identified by NAPDS, but also the PDS standards established by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which has accredited all Buffalo State education programs.
“We are thrilled to receive this award,” said Day. “It helps us demonstrate to others what we see and experience every day—a community sharing the responsibility of providing the best possible education to young students.”