Class Notes: UF Lastinger Center helping district’s teachers, students


When you think about the University of Florida, high academic standards come to mind — or perhaps a Gators game in the “Swamp.” It isn’t likely that the Collier County Public Schools’ relationship with the university would be the first thought you’d have.

Truth be told, the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning has had a healthy relationship with our school district dating back to 2004. The Lastinger Center’s mission: To develop master teachers for the highest needs schools to improve student outcomes. The center does that by “improving teacher practice and by improving the structures and support for teacher learning to best occur.”

The center has been working with all of our Immokalee schools since the beginning, and Manatee Middle School and Lely High School in East Naples are now part of the mix. What the program does is give teachers the chance to pursue masters or specialist degrees with the help of full tuition scholarships. Thus far, 31 teachers in Immokalee have completed their graduate work thanks to the program, and another 30 are hard at work following in their footsteps.

But that’s not all the Lastinger Center does for our teachers. Their teacher fellow program is designed to improve teacher practice by providing teachers with the tools needed to use what are called “scientific inquiry” methods to study their own practices.

Carolyn Spillman, Lastinger’s professor in residence in Collier County, says there are 129 Immokalee teacher fellows committed to doing “in-class, teacher research on relevant issues of classroom instruction.” Their findings will be presented at Collier County’s EXPO for Learning in May. We told you last week that our district is a model in the state when it comes to technology, well we’re a model in this case as well.

There are five districts in Florida, including ours, who are contracting with the Lastinger Center. Principals from four of those counties — Alachua, Dade, Duval and Pinellas — converged on our county this week for the center’s annual principals’ meeting. While here, among other things, they visited classrooms at Immokalee Middle School, as well as Highlands, Pinecrest and Village Oaks elementary schools.

The bottom line on the Lastinger Center involvement? According to Don Pemberton, the center’s director, “We are rolling up our sleeves and going into high-poverty schools and assuming some accountability for improving student achievement.”

That’s certainly something we very much appreciate.

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