Auburn’s Professional Development System partnership named best in nation

AUBURN – Shannon Brandt, a fourth-grade teacher at Wrights Mill Elementary School in Auburn, has experienced the Professional Development System partnership between Auburn University’s College of Education and Auburn City Schools from every possible angle.

She experienced it from the perspective of an Auburn undergraduate and a graduate student, a lab student and an intern, an adjunct instructor and an elementary school teacher. That constant contact, extended in her current role as Auburn City Schools’ PDS liaison, has enabled her to see the full range of the partnership’s benefits for administrators, faculty and students at the university and K-12 levels.

“It’s a reciprocal effect,” said Brandt, a three-time graduate of the College of Education. “They make us better and we make them better. We feel like we have a resource that can help us professionally as part of a larger professional learning community.”

The PDS collaboration now exists as a standard-bearer for partnerships between universities and local school systems. The Holmes Partnership, a consortium of approximately 100 research universities, selected Auburn’s PDS as the winner of its 2010 Nancy Zimpher Award for Best Partnership.

Representatives from the College of Education and Auburn City Schools received the award at the 14th Annual Holmes Partnership Conference held Jan. 28-30 in Charleston, S.C.

Auburn University is a charter member of the Holmes Partnership, which seeks “to enhance the quality of career professionals in teaching.” The partnership between the College of Education and Auburn City Schools encourages collaboration among educators, students, future classroom teachers, parents and other community stakeholders. Currently, Auburn faculty and their Auburn City Schools counterparts are engaged in more than 20 ongoing initiatives that involve everything from mathematics to physical education.

According to Charles Eick, associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching, a couple of specific factors enable Auburn’s PDS to stand out. Eick said the breadth of the relationship, which encompasses an entire city school system rather than an individual school, is truly unique.

“Most PDS arrangements are between a university and an individual school,” said Eick, who helped initiate the Zimpher Award application as Auburn University’s former PDS liaison. “We have a lot of discipline-specific professional development taking place. I also think the many different things we have going on in that partnership sets us apart. We’re involved in history, science, math, special education and counseling, to name a few.”

This involvement takes many forms, including College of Education students serving internships and faculty teaching courses and working with Auburn City Schools to shape curriculum. Auburn City School educators, from every level of K-12, are encouraged to take advantage of such professional development opportunities as conducting research with or receiving mentorship from university faculty, attending conferences and pursuing advanced degrees and specialized training.

Both the College of Education and Auburn City Schools derive benefits from the relationship. Auburn students receive classroom experience that will prepare them for the workforce. Auburn City Schools educators and Auburn faculty hone their teaching and research skills while also keeping current with best practices. And, ultimately, Auburn City Schools students reap the rewards of the commitment by both parties.

“A huge part of [the success] has been the administration in the school system and the teachers being willing to put in the sweat equity that it takes to improve practice,” said John Saye, program coordinator for secondary social science education in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching. “We’re contributing sweat equity as well, but there is that sort of belief in the Auburn City school system, from teachers and administrators, that you can’t sit on the status quo.”

To see a video about the Professional Development System, visit Auburn’s YouTube channel. For more information about the professional development partnership, visit this link.

(Contributed by Troy Johnson.)

Contact: Troy Johnson, (334) 844-4468); (, or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (