Several heads may be better than one when schools set out to restructure their programs. A partnership among several school districts and a major teacher-training institution provides that broader base for making wise decisions, said Curtis Van Alfen, former dean of the College of Education, Brigham Young University.
Van Alfen addressed educational leaders from several states who attended the fall conference of the National Federation of Urban Suburban School Districts. The districts represent the 23 largest in the United States. Jordan District hosted the meetings, which were held through Saturday.Describing a partnership that involves BYU and Wasatch, Nebo, Provo Alpine and Jordan districts, Van Alfen said that a true partnership is based on "creating relationships of trust, generating feelings of altruism and a desire to serve, and developing a vision in which all of the partners can participate."
If a partnership is built on these principles, "It doesn't matter how you proceed," he said.
A school in the partnership developed an entirely different approach to its reading program, Van Alfen said. Others have restructured their organizations to better meet current needs.
"We are looking at it as a journey, not as a destination. And we're learning all along the route," he said. Each of the partner districts has different needs, from the rural challenges of Wasatch to the particular needs of a large district such as Jordan.
The partnership also has advantages for the university as a large training institution, Van Alfen said.
"We all believe that what teacher trainees need is more opportunity to experience the real problems of the classroom," he said. The interaction between school districts and the university allows a broader involvement for teachers in training.
"From the university standpoint, we've gained more than we've given," said Van Alfen. "The training of teachers is changing yearly" based partly on the feedback from the district partners.
Another speaker Thursday told the educators that the same qualities that impelled Utah's early pioneers to cross hundreds of miles of prairie to the Great Basin can lead education into a brighter future.
Excitement about what they were doing and who they were doing it for was a prime motivator of the pioneers, said C. Daniel Litchford Jr., of Weber State College.
Educators can learn something from advertising experts, Litchford said in an animated talk.
"If we could design a television ad that was the first thing students saw every day, we could lick the challenge to education," he said. Advertisers use creativity, repetition, symbols, rhythm and often music, to relay a message that stays with the hearers, he said.