GSE-CSPN Empowers Educators to Advance Excellence & Equity in Education

The primary goal of the Graduate School of Education Community School Partnership Network (GSE-CSPN) is to establish meaningful and mutually beneficial connections with the local community. These connections are vital to ensuring that pre-service teachers are receiving practical experience in schools, which is important when trying to bridge theory and practice. In addition to this, GSE-CSPN ensures that cooperating teachers, administrators, and superintendents have access to professional development and higher education attainment. Finally, it aims to promote a sense of community between the university and the local school districts so that students within them will look at Rutgers as a possible school to attend in the future.

Lisa Knox, faculty member at the GSE and the partnership leader to Franklin Township Public Schools, recalls the process of beginning to foster a relationship with her district. “Pulling from my background as a principal, it gave me insight as to what it is like to be an administrator in a school and how we view outside entities. The name and the brand of Rutgers carries a lot of clout and being able to say that I am a part of Rutgers University helped me gain entry. Having the ability to interact with different types of people and having experience working in urban education allowed me to begin to pave those relationships in order to provide these opportunities for this network to be formed.”

The process begins with Dr. Nora Hyland, Associate Dean & Faculty Director of Teacher Education, reaching out to superintendents of local districts. Partnership leaders participate in these conversations as well, to learn the needs of the districts. Then partnership leaders meet with the leaders of the schools and present the GSE-Community School Partnership Network as well as the benefits for the administration to participate. The benefits include professional development hours, greater community connections, and having access to the plethora of resources that Rutgers has available.

“McAfee Elementary School in Franklin was looking to start a garden and we were able to connect them with Cook College to help them with planting, irrigation, harvesting, and the like. It was helpful for them to be able to leverage our partnership to get that contact. Now they harvest their own vegetables and sell them to community members,” stated Knox.

In her role, Knox considers herself more of an ambassador. “We wear many hats and have to be able to deal with different types of audiences,” said Knox. “We have to be able to present our program to principals and superintendents, but also be able to support pre-service teachers who are nervous about being indoctrinated into schools and other issues that arise from that process, including bias, discipline, and workload, while also evaluating them as a supervisor. We are like coaches, ensuring they are up to standard by the time they are ready to graduate.”

One primary goal of the GSE-CSPN is to expand further. Two more partnership leaders will be hired in the hopes of expanding the network as well as allowing it to become a marquee program for other universities across the country.

“Together with the school district, we are striving for equity in education and making sure it is an excellent experience for all parties. Our focus is children and the equity piece has to be acknowledged by everyone,” reflected Knox. “Teachers and administrators may not always reflect the community they are servicing, and we have to understand that you cannot be unconscious walking into these situations. You must be critically conscious of the space you are coming into. You have to ask yourself, ‘what is the role I am playing in helping these students be successful?’”

“I am excited about the work we are doing since I know the GSE community is being impactful in that regard. Facilitating those conversations about how we show up in our work becomes critical when making sure every student has an equitable experience,” stated Knox.