The UCI School of Education met with representatives from local schools as part of a collaborative effort to transform Orange County education
The UCI School of Education, along with representatives from six local K12 schools, met on April 11 to discuss common challenges, best practices and shared goals in the first of the School of Education’s Network Improvement Community (NIC) dinners.
What are NICs?
In fall 2018, the UCI School of Education partnered with six local schools, listed below, to establish the Orange County Educational Collaborative. A School of Education faculty member and a Ph.D. student are matched with an Orange County school, and the partnership team works with school leadership to identify greatest needs and goals, and conduct research that will positively impact the school. Through this process, each participating school is able to collaboratively conduct targeted scholarship that quickly addresses potential needs.
Local schools then meet with one another to identify and address their common, complex problems. Schools, alongside the School of Education, can then mobilize to implement a measured, trackable improvement plan that affects multiple schools simultaneously. The resulting work is a NIC.
“Well-designed partnerships can provide formative, on-site research; instructional support for teachers; and longitudinal analysis of student performance,” said Richard Arum, dean and professor of the UCI School of Education. “The Network Improvement Community is one of many ways in which the School of Education is partnering with local schools to address specific needs, and to transform educational outcomes in Orange County and beyond.”
What makes NICs effective?
The targeted research at each school allows school leadership to tell UCI faculty and graduate students what they’d like to focus on, making sure that research directly arises from community needs. Collaboration with other schools then produces change at a systemic level. Combined, schools experience improvements at a micro and macro level.
“It’s hard to have everyone just do their own thing if you want to improve something district, city, or county-wide,” said Associate Professor June Ahn, who is spearheading the NIC effort at the School of Education. “When everyone focuses on a goal, however, and we can both measure the goal and thoughtfully attend to all the barriers and work processes for that goal, then you can start to see systemic improvement.”
NICs are also heavily reliant on data – both collecting data and iterating on it as quickly as possible to learn how to improve dynamically. This approach is different than some traditional academic research, Ahn said, where studies take years to complete and results are shared once the study is complete.
“We want to work together from the start – rapidly organize, come up with an idea, map everything out, then commit to a plan over the course of 10-12 weeks,” Ahn said. “With a strong focus on data and dynamic collaboration, schools can measure change and see improvement quickly, or see that something isn’t working, and pivot.”
April 11 marked the first time that representatives - including principals, teachers, parents, counselors, and district and city board members - from the six schools came together to discuss their work. Participants were asked to write down their schools’ greatest strengths and needs, and their notes were grouped into themes alongside other schools’ replies.
“We started to seed ideas for what larger projects could be, and it was great to have people from different schools sit at the same table and realize they are all trying to solve similar issues,” Ahn said.
A few recurring questions materialized at the dinner: ways to best support student culture, improving student experience, and building personalized support for students, to name a few. The next steps, according to Ahn, will be for the schools to pare down their shared issues and identify the main topics they’d like to collectively work on.
The UCI NIC initiative is trying to develop ideas from the bottom-up, instead of a top-down approach. “You don’t want the ideas to just come from a faculty member or another random person – where you’re setting the agenda and recruiting people,” Ahn said. “We’re laying the foundation now and together we’re building the ship – and then we’re going to drive it right away.”
“Improving the educational outcomes for students from underrepresented backgrounds requires a systemic, collaborative and timely solution and the NIC is the vehicle to get there,” said Alex Serna, executive director of Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. Serna was in attendance at the dinner event and participated in the activities. “This is about our community, about the lives of so many and I am excited because the NIC is the path to a better future for countless students in Orange County and beyond.
“It takes a village, and this is it.”
To view photos from the April 11 dinner, please view this photo album.
Transforming Orange County Education
Orange County schools face similar issues that other schools across the nation face, Ahn said. Chief among them: accommodating students who are traditionally not supported as well, be it an ethnic or socio-economic gap. “The opportunity to do good work is here,” Ahn said.
Next year a seventh school, TLC Public Charter School in Orange, will join the partnership. Arum envisions the program adding six schools for fall 2019, bringing the total to 12, and then growing to 18 in fall 2020.
“These partnerships are creating a national model for how to advance the science of education both into the community and the university,” Arum said. “Soon we’ll be at a point where districts, cities, and counties can quickly implement targeted, measured, systemic changes.”
Schools currently participating, along with the professor and student assigned:
- El Sol Science and Arts Academy - Professor Elizabeth Peña and Yenda Prado
- Katella High School - Associate Professor Penelope Collins and Maricela Banuelos
- Marco Forster Middle School/Breakthrough SJC - Associate Professor Stephanie Reich and Jennifer Renick
- Samueli Academy - Dean and Professor Richard Arum and Chris Wegemer
- Valley High School/High School Inc. - Professor Carol Booth Olson and Jacob Steiss
- Willard Intermediate School - Associate Professor June Ahn and Ha Nguyen
- TLC Public Charter School is joining in fall 2019.
About the UCI School of Education
One of the nation’s premier education schools, the UCI School of Education is focused on advancing educational sciences and contributing to improved educational opportunities and outcomes for individuals across the entire lifespan. A diverse, dynamic and collaborative institution, the School of Education’s research, community partnerships and programming are dedicated to producing innovative scholarship, addressing the needs of local schools, and inspiring future generations of educators. Established in 2015, the School of Education ranks No. 23 in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of top graduate schools of education, No. 13 among public schools. Located in the heart of diverse and burgeoning Orange County – the nation’s sixth most populous county – the School of Education is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for a 21st Century school of education.