Supporting PK-12 continuous school improvement efforts in a school–university partnership network

Stephanie L. Savick (School of Education, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
Lauren Watson (John Ruhrah Elementary Middle School, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)

School-University Partnerships

ISSN: 1935-7125

Article publication date: 12 April 2024

Issue publication date: 28 June 2024




This paper will discuss one university’s efforts to initiate a process to better support PK-12 continuous school improvement goals for all 13 schools in their PDS network as a way to broaden the university’s mission and respond more formally to the individual school communities with which they partner.


The paper is conceptual in that it presents an innovative idea to stimulate discussion, generate new ideas and advance thinking about cross-institutional collaboration between universities and professional development schools.


The paper provides insights and ideas for bringing about change and growth in a seasoned PDS partnership network by connecting PK-12 continuous school improvement efforts to PDS partnership work.


This paper fulfills an identified need to study how seasoned partnerships can participate in simultaneous renewal by offering ideas that school–university partnership leaders can build upon as they make efforts to participate in the process of growth and change.



Savick, S.L. and Watson, L. (2024), "Supporting PK-12 continuous school improvement efforts in a school–university partnership network", School-University Partnerships, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 205-215.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Stephanie L. Savick and Lauren Watson


Published in School-University Partnerships. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this license may be seen at

The following practitioner-based manuscript describes the process that Mid-Atlantic University’s (pseudonym) Professional Development School (PDS) network launched to promote a collaborative, continuous improvement partnership initiative. Mid-Atlantic University is a small, urban, private university located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States of America that offers traditional and alternative teaching certification programs. Upon completing their required coursework, all teacher candidates are expected to complete a full-time, 20-week student teaching experience split between two different schools that participate in a formal PDS partnership model. Mid-Atlantic University currently partners with 13 PDSs across five public school systems that are part of or border the metropolitan area in which the university is located. The PDS network includes seven elementary schools, one elementary/middle school, two middle schools and three high schools. The majority of Mid-Atlantic University’s PDS partnerships has been in existence for a decade or more and would be considered successful based on national and state PDS standards. This paper will discuss our university’s efforts to initiate a process to better support PK-12 continuous school improvement goals for all 13 schools in our PDS network as a way to broaden our mission and respond more formally to the individual school communities with which we partner. This initiative specifically aligns with the National Association for School–University Partnerships (NASUP) Essential 1: A professional development school (PDS) is a learning community guided by a comprehensive, articulated mission that is broader than the goals of any single partner and that aims to advance equity, antiracism and social justice within and among schools, colleges/universities and their respective community and professional partners; Essential 3: A PDS is a context for continuous professional learning and leading for all participants, guided by need and a spirit and practice of inquiry and Essential 4: A PDS makes a shared commitment to reflective practice, responsive innovation and generative knowledge (NAPDS, 2021).

Continuous improvement in education

Continuous improvement is rooted in systems thinking, which emerged in the 1930s as organizations adopted the theory to solve problems from a holistic viewpoint (von Bertalanffy, 1968). The idea behind continuous improvement is that an organization’s success is related to its ability to create change in an effort to increase effectiveness (Elgart, 2018). The parts of a continuous improvement cycle generally include setting goals, identifying ways to improve and evaluating change (Sparks, 2018). In education, continuous improvement has been associated with school improvement efforts for decades. With the end goal of ensuring student growth, most schools are held accountable for making progress based on goals outlined in individual school improvement or progress plans (Elgart, 2018). This can apply to both university programs and PK-12 school systems.

Continuous improvement in teacher preparation programs at the university level is usually monitored by formal accrediting bodies. Mid-Atlantic University is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). According to CAEP (2018), accreditation serves two purposes: accountability and continuous improvement. CAEP (2022) requires teacher preparation institutions seeking accreditation or re-accreditation to provide evidence for meeting five standards: content and pedagogical knowledge (Standard 1); clinical partnerships and practice (Standard 2); candidate recruitment, progression and support (Standard 3); program impact (Standard 4) and provider quality assurance system and continuous improvement (Standard 5). The standards most relevant to this paper are Standards 2 and 5, emphasizing a focus on continuous improvement in our PDS partnerships. In addition to participating in the re-accreditation process every seven years, Mid-Atlantic University’s School of Education also communicates our continuous improvement work to CAEP on an annual basis in the form of a report. For this reason, a focus on continuous improvement has become institutionalized throughout all aspects of our teacher preparation programming, including the evaluation of our PDS partnerships from year-to-year.

Continuous improvement in public schools and school systems is usually monitored by state departments of education that must comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal law that holds schools accountable for student achievement. Effective leaders of continuous school improvement are generally expected to (1) understand elements that promote student learning; (2) use these elements to create coherent instructional programs and (3) work with stakeholders to implement these programs in ways that meet local student and community needs (Hoachlander et al., 2001). Research-based school improvement strategies generally include the blending of at least some or all of the following: (1) increasing academic rigor; (2) increasing student engagement; (3) providing focused, sustained professional development for teachers; (4) creating organizational practices that support student learning; (5) building linkages to parents and communities and (6) monitoring and accelerating improvement through data-driven assessment and accountability (Hoachlander et al., 2001).

In the state where Mid-Atlantic University’s PDS partnerships are located, the state department of education integrates school improvement practices with leadership development work (Booker-Dwyer & Liccione, 2018). Support provided by the state department is grounded in the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 2015) and the Four Domains of Rapid School Improvement (The Center on School Turnaround, 2017). School leaders are expected to engage in a cyclical process to improve school performance (Booker-Dwyer & Liccione, 2018). For example, as a general practice, principals of schools in each of the state’s school systems convene their leadership teams each summer, prior to the school year starting, to discuss their school goals for that school year and create a School Progress Plan (SPP). During these summer leadership meetings, individual school teams identify what data are needed to determine present progress, what the data indicate and what needs to be done to improve student achievement as defined by the data (Booker-Dwyer & Liccione, 2018). The school leadership team then engages in a continuous cycle of data analysis throughout the school year to inform school improvement decisions and adjust existing strategies as appropriate. Subcommittees appointed to work on school improvement goals throughout the year often involve teachers in each school so that buy-in and ownership of the data occur. Common examples of school improvement focus areas often include math, literacy and creating safe and supportive school environments (Booker-Dwyer & Liccione, 2018).

The level of support provided to each school system in the state is dependent upon their data-driven needs. At the universal level, support is provided to all school systems through statewide meetings, professional learning experiences and online resources. At the customized level, support is provided to select schools (in collaboration with school systems) through targeted professional learning experiences and leadership coaches informed by school data. At the concentrated level, increased support is provided to select schools that have not significantly improved student outcomes through increased on-site support and accountability to improve student achievement. All support is based on root cause analyses, needs assessments and action plans (Booker-Dwyer & Liccione, 2018).

Continuous improvement in our professional development school network

While not stated explicitly, continuous improvement expectations were embedded in the early stages of the PDS movement through what Goodlad (1994) referred to as simultaneous renewal or the adoption of innovative practices that help school–university partnerships change and grow together. PDSs were first established in the 1990s to encourage innovation and sustainable practices related to four research-based best practices: teacher preparation, professional development, inquiry and research and student learning (Holmes Group, 1986, 1990; Rutter, 2006). Through collaboration and resource sharing, mutual benefits for both schools and universities are foundational to the successful sustainability of PDS partnerships. It is assumed that an intentional focus on standards and continuous improvement helps to ensure that these mutual benefits are realized and sustained. To support simultaneous renewal or continuous improvement at Mid-Atlantic University, we use NASUP’s Nine Essentials (2021), in addition to a set of 58 additional research-based indicators developed by our state education department to guide the evaluation of PDS partnership work from year-to-year (Maryland Partnership for Teaching and Learning K–16, Superintendents and Deans Committee, 2003).

Relevant to the focus of this paper was an “aha” moment that stakeholders in our PDS network experienced while diligently focusing on our standards-based, continuous improvement work, that is, over time, even successful partnerships laser-focused on research-based standards and best practices can become prescriptive and lose sight of responsive innovation. While Mid-Atlantic University’s PDS partnership network has remained strong for almost three decades, our annual self-study, rooted in continuous improvement efforts, revealed to us that we may have been concentrating on strengthening, and not necessarily changing, our current practices at the expense of acting in innovative ways when it came to our strategic planning from year-to-year. According to del Prado Hill and Garas-York (2020), PDSs should embrace a culture of innovation and search for ways to refine practices, not just strengthen existing ones. A variety of PDS stakeholders associated with our PDS network provided valuable insight and feedback to help us arrive at that conclusion. As Dresden et al. (2014) point out, PDSs are uniquely positioned to engage in innovative work because of the close relationships that exist between partners.

While there are multiple formal leadership roles associated with partnerships in Mid-Atlantic University’s PDS network, including university advisors, school principals and district leaders, three leadership roles are specific to the day-to-day support of PDS work in the network’s individual schools: the university liaison, the school-based site coordinator and the university PDS coordinator. In short, the university liaison is the contact person representing the university in each PDS partnership. This is the individual whose presence in the school building manifests the continuing and regular visibility of the university in the partnership. The responsibilities of the university liaison include securing professional development to meet the needs of school-based faculty, providing training for school-based mentors and chairing the coordinating council, which is the governing body of the partnership. The site coordinator represents the school partner in each individual partnership. This role is typically held by a teacher at the school. The responsibilities of the site coordinator include identifying and recruiting school-based mentors, assisting with the placement of interns with mentors and coordinating the introduction and integration of interns into the school. Finally, the university PDS coordinator oversees the network and works collaboratively with PDS liaisons, site coordinators, principals and local school system representatives to support effective PDS implementation and activities. Hereafter, liaisons, site coordinators and the PDS coordinator as a group will be referenced to the PDS team. At Mid-Atlantic University, the PDS team includes 22 stakeholders.

Annual self-study focused on continuous improvement

Each year, our PDS team celebrates our accomplishments and acknowledges our challenges by participating in an annual self-study focused on our continuous improvement as a network. According to Hauge (2021), engaging in self-study is an intentional and systematic way to examine one’s practice to improve it, based on a deeper understanding of the context in which the practice takes place. When we began to embark on our self-study at the end of the 2022–2023 academic year, our accomplishments appeared to outweigh our challenges. Having received the 2022 NAPDS Exemplary PDS Partnership Award and having completed a successful CAEP review as it specifically related to Standard 2: Clinical Partnerships and Practice, our team initially questioned whether we needed to conduct a self-study moving into the next academic year. Our articulated agreements, shared governance structures and comprehensive mission supported high-quality clinical experiences and continuous professional learning for all participants. In addition, our commitment to research, results, resources and recognition supported the successful sustainability of our partnerships. However, after some thoughtful conversations, we came to realize that we might have fallen into a rut of sorts, as evident in making only small tweaks to our institutionalized practices from year-to-year without attention to adopting any innovative practices that might help our individual school partnerships change and grow. In reflection, we began to question whether our laser focus on standards and indicators to guide our work in the same ways each year might be presenting as a blindspot in re-envisioning our work with each of our individual partnerships. As a team, we acknowledged having become comfortable over the years, which was likely interfering with our desire to explore new ideas.

Gaining perspective: Reaching out to individual PDS partnership principals

To address this as a potential oversight, the PDS coordinator set up individual check-in meetings with each of the 13 PDS partnership principals with the goal of identifying ideas for renewing individual partnership work as it related to supporting continuous school improvement goals in those schools. After engaging in those meetings, the coordinator understood that while the clinical preparation of interns and the continuous professional development of faculty were areas of strength across each partnership, the support of PK-12 initiatives in improving student achievement in individual partnerships was not. Supporting continuous school improvement efforts in individual partnerships was primarily addressed through clinical experiences and opportunities for school-based faculty to engage in professional development experiences offered through the university. There was little attention paid to the individual continued school improvement goals of PDS partners.

During those check-in meetings, all principals openly shared ideas they had for fostering greater ties to the university, most of which were specific to their school-based improvement goals. These ideas included, but were not limited to, raising math scores, supporting teacher academy programs, running student engagement boot camps, retaining teachers, supporting struggling teachers, increasing parent involvement, supporting community school initiatives, writing equity-focused grants, building community trust, connecting feeder schools and addressing school climate issues. The PDS principals were clearly not at a loss for ideas they had about moving our partnership work forward in innovative ways.

PDS partnership continuous school improvement focus areas

The PDS team decided that an emphasis on supporting individual, continuous school improvement goals would become a practice we would explore in an effort to promote growth and change in our PDS network of schools. The university liaisons were asked to meet with their respective partnership principals at the start of the school year to identify one school improvement focus area moving into the academic year and then, brainstorm the most appropriate way to move forward in supporting that goal. Liaisons were also asked to determine the sources of data that would be collected to document the outcomes of their individual school improvement projects and suggest the publication, meeting or conference in which they would be sharing their results. This expectation would allow liaisons to commit to their projects and hold themselves accountable for data-driven results. Once school improvement focus areas were identified in each partnership, liaisons were asked to meet with one another monthly to share updates, successes and challenges presented in their individual PDS partnership work. These meeting times would provide an intentional space for support and problem-solving throughout the process.

To date, all 13 of the schools in Mid-Atlantic University’s network have enthusiastically participated in identifying a continuous improvement focus area based on this initiative. Below are the school improvement focus areas and anticipated data sources that were identified to document school improvement outcomes for each of our PDS partnerships moving into this academic year.

Partnership Elementary School 1

Partnership Elementary School 1 (pseudonym) plans to focus on supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) in inclusive classrooms. The liaison and site coordinator will be implementing a professional development book club for interested teachers. Teachers will read and discuss the text, No More Low Expectations for English Learners, in four after-school book club sessions. Participation in the book club is voluntary, but those who join are asked to commit to attending all sessions and to engage in hands-on practice with the research-based strategies outlined in the text. Participating teachers will be asked to choose one of the following ways to demonstrate their learning: (1) by demonstrating a strategy with a partner during a book club session; (2) by videoing themselves implementing a strategy in their classrooms and reflecting with their peers at a book club session or (3) through participating in a coaching cycle with the liaison and sharing takeaways at a book club session.

Partnership High School 2

Partnership High School 2 (pseudonym) chose to focus on creating a stronger relationship between Mid-Atlantic University’s School of Education and the Teacher Academy of Maryland (TAM) students who attend the high school. The TAM program is a Career and Technology Education (CTE) program of study that seeks to address the persistent teacher shortage challenge by creating a pipeline of teacher candidates from local high schools. Juniors and seniors in the program will be spending a full day on campus attending classes, engaging with a panel of education majors, participating in an enrollment seminar, and having lunch in the university’s café. In addition, the liaison associated with this partnership will be conducting quarterly professional development sessions for all high school students in the TAM program, with a focus on the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection in becoming a successful teacher. Sessions will cover the MyersMyers-Briggs Briggs type indicator, learning styles, cultural competency and emotional intelligence. These frameworks will be used to guide activities and prompt discussions related to personal strengths and challenges. Student reflection data will be used to measure the success of the project.

Partnership High School 3 and Partnership Middle School 4

Partnership High School 3 (pseudonym) and Partnership Middle School 4 (pseudonym) plan to examine the association between flourishing and reading and math outcomes in addition to examining the impact of using the Multi-Tiered Systems to Support Flourishing (MTSS-F) on students’ levels of flourishing. The site coordinator at each school will work with their administrative teams to survey students in each school about their levels of flourishing using the Human Flourishing Index – Adolescent Version. The site coordinators will also work with their Math and ELA department chairs to compile achievement data based on reading and math outcomes, and flourishing data. The site coordinator and liaison will collaborate in analyzing the correlations between: (1) flourishing and math outcomes and (2) flourishing and reading outcomes.

Partnership Elementary School 5

Partnership Elementary School 5 (pseudonym) will concentrate on increasing student engagement, student performance and teacher comfort in implementing a new math curriculum. A lesson study will be used to organize the project. The liaison will begin with a pre-observation of the 4th grade math team. She will then plan a math lesson with the 4th grade math teachers, model the teaching of the lesson and then, debrief on the lesson with the teachers. The liaison will then follow up with the teachers about what they have implemented based on the lesson study. Next steps will be determined based on the outcomes of the lesson study. Student achievement data, pre- and post-teacher needs assessment data and student engagement assessments will used to determine the success of the project.

Partnership Elementary School 6

Partnership Elementary School 6 (pseudonym) will be organizing a service learning project for students at the university to act as tutors for elementary students during small group time in math. The liaison will work directly with the service learning coordinator at the university to recruit and identify university students who are willing and able to participate in the project. The liaison will work with the site coordinator to determine the schedule prior to advertising the opportunity. In addition, the liaison will ensure that transportation can be arranged for Mid-Atlantic University’s students to be transported from the university to the elementary school and back. Data to be collected to determine the success of the project will include absentee data, achievement scores on math and English state assessments and Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) composite scores.

Partnership Elementary School 7 and Partnership Elementary School 8

Partnership Elementary School 7 (pseudonym) and Partnership Elementary School 8 (pseudonym) are experiencing an increase in ELLs, and teachers feel unprepared to support them in their content-area classes. The focus of these two partnerships will concentrate on helping content-area teachers and interns use best practices to teach the ELLs in their classes. The liaison at each school will offer a professional development session on scaffolding for ELLs, followed by biweekly, one-to-one coaching sessions with interested teachers. A mini-grant will also be written to acquire math manipulatives to support ELL student achievement. Data points to measure student outcomes will include a comparison of state assessment data from 2023 to 2024 and a comparison to World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) data from 2023 to 2024. In addition, teachers participating in consistent coaching will provide data on the 2023–2024 state exam in math and literacy. A comparison will be made on the differences in student outcomes at the same WIDA levels.

Partnership Elementary School 9

The focus of Partnership Elementary School 9 (pseudonym) is on new teacher retention, with the goal of creating a supportive climate where teachers can become effective and positively impact student achievement in their classrooms. Through coaching, training and informal observations, the liaison will be working with three teachers who are new to the school this year. Outcome data will include informal observation evaluations, anecdotal notes from the observations, conference minutes with informal action plans for the focus areas selected, training session documents and formal observations from the school’s leadership team.

Partnership High School 10

Partnership High School 10 (pseudonym) has experienced a decline in student math proficiency scores since the COVID-19 pandemic. The liaison and site coordinator will work with the math department co-chairs to conduct focus groups with math department teachers to identify the types of supports they believe they need to better support student learning in their classrooms. Once these resources are identified, the liaison will work with math methods instructors at the university to design a menu of professional development options that can be made available to math teachers at Partnership High School 10. In addition, the liaison will work with the Math Department Chair in the School of Arts and Sciences at the university to identify math majors and minors who are interested in volunteering their time as tutors for students at the high school who are struggling with prerequisite skills needed to meet success in their current math courses. Finally, the liaison and site coordinator will be implementing a professional development book club for interested teachers. Teachers will read and discuss the text, Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations, in four after school book club sessions. Participating teachers will be invited to demonstrate and share their learning with others by creating and following an action plan related to the content of one of the book’s chapters. Classroom coverage will be arranged during the school day so that the math teachers have an opportunity to observe one another’s lessons based on the action plans they develop. Outcome data for this focus area will include a comparison of student benchmark scores for each unit at each grade level, informal observations of student learning/engagement in math classrooms and anecdotal reflections from tutors who are working with the high school students participating in the tutoring sessions.

Partnership Elementary/Middle School 11

The focus of Partnership Elementary/Middle School 11 (pseudonym) is on teacher certification and retention. The liaison and site coordinator will guide eight paraeducators to completion of their education courses at the university as part of a state grant that was written to support paraeducators in earning their teaching degrees through an apprenticeship program. To help address teacher shortages, the grant provided an innovative pathway to certification for the eight paraprofessionals who have worked at the school for dozens of years combined. Partnership Elementary School 11 paraprofessionals elected to participate in the 60-credit pilot initiative, in part because they were able to sustain their jobs as educators while working on competency-based coursework on the job. After completing all requirements for degree completion and certification, participants will be required to teach in their sponsoring school system for a minimum of two years. Outcome data for this focus area will include bi-weekly observation data for the eight paraeducators and anecdotal data from weekly check-in support sessions with the grant’s leadership team.

Partnership Elementary School 12 and Partnership Middle School 13

Partnership Elementary School 12 (pseudonym) will focus on school climate with an emphasis on student voice, while Partnership Middle School 13 (pseudonym) will focus on the use of fiction to teach literacy. While the foci are clearly distinct, the liaison’s strategy for each school is similar. The liaison and site coordinator at each school will create a monthly newsletter for teachers that highlights strategies and resources specific to each continuous improvement focus area. These “Tidbits for Teachers” will be highlighted at the monthly faculty meetings, where teachers will be invited to share their application of and experience with any of the strategies they implemented in their classrooms or with students. In addition, the liaison will create a short weekly video – two minutes or less – which will provide a quick overview of a strategy (related to the focus area) that can be implemented in any classroom. The short video clip will arrive in teacher email inboxes every Monday morning, and teachers will be encouraged to implement the strategy at some point during the week. Finally, PDS funds will be used to purchase a set of books related to each continuous improvement focus area. These books will become part of the PDS library at each school, where teachers can check out the books at their leisure. Any teacher who wishes to conduct a book study or professional development opportunity based on the content of any of the texts is encouraged to submit a project description to the principal, who will in turn provide the teacher with a stipend for their planning and implementation of the accepted professional activity. Outcome data for each of these schools will include quarterly feedback from teachers in the form of a survey, formal and informal observations of teachers by the leadership team and monthly informal student focus groups held during the lunch periods.

Anticipated next steps

The success of each continuous improvement project will be determined by analyzing the outcome data identified by the liaison and site coordinator and agreed upon by the principal at each school. Principals can use these data sources to validate continuous school improvement efforts at their schools when communicating with various stakeholders, such as students, parents, teachers, community members, district supervisors and superintendents in their districts. Liaisons, who also serve as full-time professors in the university’s School of Education, are encouraged to publish their collaborative work in peer-reviewed journals that highlight school-university partnership work. Liaisons are also encouraged to participate in the writing of grants associated with the continuous school improvement focus areas identified in their partnerships. An end-of-year debrief will occur with liaisons and principals at each school to determine how the continuous improvement partnership work will continue or evolve moving into the next academic year. The summer months will be used for planning the next steps moving forward in partnership.

Implications and lessons learned

Several implications and lessons learned have emerged from our continuous school improvement initiative. First, relationships within and across the PDS network have been strengthened. Because the focus of each partnership has extended well beyond the clinical preparation of teacher candidates in each school, attendance at quarterly partnership governance meetings has been significantly higher, moving from an average of five people at each meeting to 12. Traditional attendees at school-based governance meetings almost exclusively included in-service teachers who mentor, have mentored or hope to mentor teacher candidates in addition to teacher candidates themselves. More faculty and staff in each building have shown a greater interest in participating in planning for future partnership work. In addition, liaisons have been able to connect principals and teachers from different schools with one another as they navigate common school improvement efforts. For example, leadership teams in two of the partnerships are now working together to prepare their teachers to better support ELLs in their content-area classrooms.

Professional collaboration related to scholarship, service and teaching among professors at Mid-Atlantic University has also increased. For example, several liaisons are working together to update methods and syllabi that reflect what they are learning about the needs of teachers in their respective partnerships based on school improvement data. In addition, several of the liaisons are collaborating to implement a grant that was written to address similar school improvement goals identified in three different partnerships. Finally, a group of liaisons is working together on a coaching model they are using with new in-service teachers across their partnerships to make recommendations about transitioning from the current coaching model we are using in our clinical preparation programs to an updated model.

Finally, the breadth and depth of relationship building across the PDS network have resulted in more interest in both undergraduate and graduate programs at the university. A Ph.D. cohort was formed when leaders from across partnerships showed an interest in continuing their professional development together in a more formal way. In addition, visits to the university from future teachers and students participating in the grant mentioned previously have resulted in an increase in undergraduate applications at the university. Finally, sensing an increased interest in professional development, the School of Education at Mid-Atlantic University designed a series of standalone professional development courses that in-service teachers in PDS partnerships can enroll in at reduced tuition rates to renew their teaching certification.


The initiation of a process to better support PK-12 continuous school improvement goals for all 13 schools in our PDS network allowed Mid-Atlantic University to broaden our mission and respond more formally to the individual school communities with which we partner. What began as an idea to innovate created a ripple effect of mutual benefits that are likely to continue to unfold as we prepare to evaluate individual and network partnership work at the close of this academic year. Our work to establish a process to better support continuous school improvement goals extends the current research by offering ideas that school–university partnership leaders can build upon as they make efforts to participate in the process of simultaneous renewal.

NAPDS Nine Essentials (2nd Ed.), addressed in this article:

Essential 1: A Professional Development School (PDS) is a learning community guided by a comprehensive, articulated mission that is broader than the goals of any single partner and that aims to advance equity, antiracism and social justice within and among schools, colleges/universities and their respective community and professional partners.

Essential 3: A PDS is a context for continuous professional learning and leading for all participants, guided by need and a spirit and practice of inquiry.

Essential 4: A PDS makes a shared commitment to reflective practice, responsive innovation and generative knowledge.


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Corresponding author

Stephanie L. Savick is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

About the authors

Stephanie L. Savick (Ph.D.) serves as Professor and the PDS Coordinator in the School of Education at Notre Dame of Maryland University. She teaches courses in educational leadership, equity pedagogy and culturally responsive teaching. Her research interests include educational leadership, teacher preparation and school–university partnerships.

Lauren Watson is Assistant Principal at John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle in Baltimore City. She enjoys working with teacher interns and has served as PDS Site Coordinator at John Ruhrah since 2010. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

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