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February 13, 2002

The Curry School's Envision session came on the heels of a major strategic planning process in which the Education School identified its defining elements, its major challenges, and its vision for the future. The planning effort also produced a statement of purpose: "We shape the future of society by preparing educational leaders who enhance human potential through creating and applying knowledge." As one of a shrinking number of research-based education schools that retain an emphasis on teacher training, Curry intends to position itself as a preeminent center of instruction and scholarship on important issues in education, such as the needs of at-risk populations and harnessing the power of emerging technologies in education.

The discussion began with an overview of the planning effort's results, which can be summarized as follows:
Top Ten Defining Elements

Bullet High-quality faculty
Bullet High-quality students
Bullet Friendly, helpful school culture
Bullet Affiliation with a highly ranked public university
Bullet Jeffersonian history, vision, and prestige
Bullet Appealing location, near major East-Coast cities (D.C., NYC)
Bullet Good relationships with the community and with public schools
Bullet A moderate size, which allows for flexibility and individualization for students and faculty
Bullet Opportunities for collaboration and cross-program projects
Bullet A rich mix of academic and personal cultures within the school

Top Ten Challenges and Opportunities for Change

Bullet Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of students and faculty
Bullet Accommodating the school's dual missions as a graduate school and a professional school
Bullet Defining the role of education schools in top-tier public institutions
Bullet Overcoming the diminishing influence of the school and the University in Richmond
Bullet Resolving issues relating the Curry School's relationship with the School of Continuing and Professional Studies and how this bears on the future of off-Grounds programs
Bullet Dismantling department and program structures that discourage interdisciplinary efforts
Bullet Achieving a school-wide vision from among disparate and autonomous programs
Bullet Creating an evaluation and reward system that matches the school's mission
Bullet Providing adequate space for research and intellectual collaboration

Top Ten Aspirations

Bullet Balance achievements that raise Curry's national and international profile with those that serve the state and the region
Bullet Attract excellent and diverse students
Bullet Recruit excellent and diverse faculty
Bullet Select a handful of themes that unify individual programs into a stronger school-wide identity
Bullet Identify the school's unique strengths and use them to establish a more prominent image for Curry
Bullet Establish more joint-degree programs within the school and between Curry and other schools at the University
Bullet Clarify Curry's mission regarding off-Grounds and nontraditional students
Bullet Resolve problems regarding Curry relationship with SCPS and distance-learning efforts
Bullet Set clear school-wide priorities that guide resource-allocation decisions
Bullet Acquire a new building that will bring all programs together, improve space for clinical services, and provide gathering space for faculty, staff, and students

Dean Breneman described the results of the planning process as something like a political platform, a statement of what the school stands for. Like the University as a whole, he said, the school is committed to preparing future generations of leaders in education for the Commonwealth and the nation.

He then outlined the goals that emerged from the planning process:
By 2005

Bullet Establish distinct spheres of excellence built in part on partnerships with other schools at the University.
Bullet Focus on multiple social, academic, and environmental needs of all young people, especially vulnerable, at-risk children
Bullet Build on current leadership in advancing and applying new technologies in education
Bullet Be a national resource for knowledge and practice based on empirical evidence of the effectiveness of the school's programs
Bullet Create and maintain an organizational structure that unlocks and enhances Curry's potential, both on and off Grounds

By 2010

Bullet Secure Curry's position as the best education school at a public institution
Bullet Double sponsored research funding
Bullet Increase the number endowed chairs to 15 (there are now XX)
Bullet Increase the school's endowment to $20 million (it currently totals $XX million)
Bullet Build state-of-the-art academic and research activities

Key to achieving these goals, Dean Breneman said, will be expansion and improvement of Ruffner Hall, which is regarded not only as inadequate but also unattractive. A lead gift for this project will be essential, because it is not high on the priority list going before the state. Securing a gift at this level will be a challenge because Curry has produced few alumni with exceptionally high giving capacity. However, it was noted that Curry is becoming more effective at securing support from non-alumni who are champions of education and Curry's contributions to the field. The strategic planning process, for example, was financed by a Darden School alumnus with an interest in K-12 education.

Described as a "conglomerate looking for a common thread," the school is striving to balance and integrate its role as a research-based graduate school with its mission as a professional school that trains future educators. As one of a handful of education schools targeted for a $5 million research grant from the Carnegie Foundation, Curry stands to become an even stronger center of research and a model of drawing on academic disciplines outside the school in its teaching and scholarship.

Teacher Education
It was noted that the school has come a long way since the early 1980s, when it was seen as "under threat" and its core purposes questioned. The creation of the five-year teacher training program, in which students simultaneously work toward a bachelor's degree in the College and a master's degree and completion of certification requirements at Curry, was described as a major step forward. Though it has been a success, the program needs to become more cohesive. Currently students pursue their two degrees on parallel tracks and have two advisors. The schools both offer courses in some of the same areas (child development, for example), and students often have difficulty understanding the requirements.

With its new strategic plan, the school now has the opportunity to "do it right." One suggestion was to structure the program around what is required under the state's Standards of Learning, drawing on a broad range of disciplines across the University. As one participant said, "Teacher education should be the mandate of the entire University."

One issue to be addressed is the need to give elementary school teachers a firm grounding in the physical sciences. Many take environmental sciences or astronomy to complete their science requirements, but they also should have a broad knowledge of chemistry, biology, and physics. For this purpose, Curry and the College need to work together to create special courses, which might also be offered to the general public through the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Although there is interest in the College in offering such classes, funding remains a barrier to implementing them.

Nevertheless, the outlook for building a stronger strategic alliance between Curry and the College is promising. The five-year program has a good track record, and there is ample good will between the schools. Also, the school is open to receiving suggestions from teachers in the field. The Carnegie grant will push the school to seek such input.

Leadership in the Digital Realm
Digital technology is another area where there are effective links between Curry and the College and between Curry and the University Library. Long an acknowledged leader in educational technology, the Curry School is a strong component of the digital innovations coming out of the University - from the Institute for Advance Technology in the Humanities to the Center for Digital History to the Library's Electronic Text Center.

The importance of the school's leadership in this realm was underscored by comments on the outlook for technology in K-12 education. In the next half-decade, schools will have pervasive computing, the ubiquity of graphic calculators will transform the teaching of high school math, and virtually every child will own or be given a hand-held computing device.

U.Va. is well positioned to prepare teachers to deal with this changing environment. In Arts & Sciences, teachers-in-training have the opportunity to study with faculty in the humanities and other fields who are using digital technology to transform their disciplines, and in the Curry School, they are exposed to cutting-edge technology that is changing the way teachers teach and the way they communicate with their students and their peers. Furthermore, they have access to abundant digital resources in the University Library.

It was suggested that the school use its digital capabilities to prepare future leaders in education, creating career tracks for principals and superintendents and for math and science teachers, which are in short supply and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Similarly, there is a serious shortage of special education teachers, another problem the Curry School is in a strong position to address. It was also suggested that Curry could do more to refit the skills of practicing teachers, principals, and superintendents through off-Grounds programs in digital technology.

Citing an example of how digital training at U.Va. can make an impact, one participant described a Curry School graduate teaching science in Orange County who used a digital planetarium to teach astronomy experientially. The program was adopted by her entire department, transforming the way science is taught in the school.

One of the challenges to exporting the school's leadership in this area is the cost of taking U.Va. courses for out-of-state students. It can cost an out-of-state teacher as much as $4,500 to take a single course, and as a result, the school's influence on schools and school administrators stops at the state border. Distance learning is an obvious vehicle for extending the Curry School's reach, but the problem of making such instruction available to non-Virginians at an affordable price remains to be resolved. One solution is to partner with other state institutions around the country, so that non-Virginians can enroll in Curry programs through their own state schools.

Five Areas of Potential and Concern
As a follow-up to its strategic planning process, the Curry School convened five teams to examine and develop an action plan for five areas of concern. The leaders of these teams reported on their work and led discussions of the issues during the Envision session.

1) At-Risk Populations
Through its work on at-risk populations, such as chronic underachievers, the Curry School has the opportunity to make a profound impact on the nation's schools and on society in general. There is widespread interest among Curry faculty in addressing this issue both through teacher-training efforts and through research and outreach in education policy, and there is interest among major donors in funding this work. Indeed, this may be the school's most promising target for philanthropic support. The potential for addressing the needs of at-risk populations cuts across the entire school, encompassing juvenile justice, mental health, counseling, and communications disorders, as well as teacher education and policy studies. Furthermore, the school could strengthen its work in this area by building stronger linkages with colleagues across Grounds in such fields as sociology, psychology, and medicine. The challenge will be to organize these diverse forces and focus their efforts - a task compared to steering a large ship.

2) Outreach and Distance Learning
The Curry School's outreach and distance-learning efforts are intertwined with the School of Continuing and Professional Studies and are affected by both the strengths and limitations of SCPS, which delivers high-quality programs but must generate all of its own revenues through these programs. As noted above, Curry's distance-learning initiatives are hindered by the differential between in-state and out-of-state tuition. The school has been surveying its faculty on the question of outreach and developed an action plan this past spring.

3) Self-Assessment
The Curry School's teacher education program is considered a national model and was the first in the country to receive accreditation from the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. As part of its strategic planning process, the Curry School is striving to find an effective way to assess the strength of its programs and to identify weaknesses. One area where the school needs to focus more effort is in tracking its graduates - keeping up with their professional development and measuring Curry's influence on their careers. The school intends to follow its graduates for a minimum of two years, looking not only at their performance but also at how the children they teach perform on such tests as the Stanford 9 and Virginia's Standards of Learning.

The Curry School's self-assessment team is struggling with a number of issues, including which constituencies should be addressed and what each department needs to know about itself and about the school in general. The services of an institutional researcher could help the school resolve these questions.

4) External Funding
One of the markers of success is a school's level of external funding for research and outreach. Out of 90 faculty at Curry, only ten currently receive significant external support for their scholarly work. To achieve its goal of doubling the dollars it receives for sponsored research, the Curry School will have to devote more faculty time to academic inquiry while still fulfilling its mission of training professionals in education. It is clear that Curry faculty have the interest and capability to expand their research activities, but their time and attention are being focused on other activities. Another impediment is lack of physical space for research.

The school will need to create structures and mechanisms for identifying fundable projects, for assisting faculty with the grant writing and grant management processes, and for providing the incentives to pursue externally funded research. The school also needs to give more assistance to young faculty to encourage them to seek grant support.

5) Spheres of Commitment
This team is identifying areas in which the Curry School is excellent and where it should be excellent. This effort has broken through the school's territorial boundaries and is giving faculty in all departments a voice in the process. As a result, cross-school communication on this issue has been strong.

The Need for a Common Experience
One of the concerns voiced by students in the Envision session is the insularity of the Curry School's departments. Students and faculty are not as aware as they should be of what is going on in areas outside their own programs, and there are limited opportunities for schoolwide interaction. The configuration of Ruffner Hall contributes to this problem, as does the lack of a common experience (even a schoolwide common course) shared by all Curry students.

A Promising Outlook
As it emerged from the discussion, the vision for the future of the Curry School dovetails well with the vision being developed for the University. Just as the University is striving to become a more seamless enterprise, Curry wishes to achieve better integration, both internally among its own programs and externally with other schools across the Grounds.

Recognizing that the state's financial condition is not likely to improve for a number of years, the school is positioning itself to attract other sources of support, including research grants from federal agencies and private foundations, as well as individual donors who wish to improve the human condition by advancing education. The school is staking a claim on preeminence in key areas, among them educational technology, the needs of at-risk populations, and policy studies. And at a time when other major education schools are reducing their emphasis on teacher training, Curry remains committed to preparing the teachers of tomorrow, even as it begins to devote more attention to faculty research.

By producing great teachers and other leaders in education, by fostering research that will shape the thinking in its array of disciplines, and by reaching across those disciplines to effect new synergies, the Curry School is poised to become a powerful laboratory for the transformation of our schools and the systems and policies that govern them.

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Last Modified: Thursday, 16-Feb-2006 08:37:41 EST
Copyright 2003 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

 

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