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Becoats to strengthen DPS-Duke ties

For Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats, strengthening collaboration between DPS and Duke is key to future success.

In his presentation Monday, titled “Strategic expansion of the collaboration between the Durham Public Schools and Duke University,” Becoats discussed his plan to expand a partnership between DPS and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. Becoats outlined areas where the University can collaborate with DPS on research and program evaluations of district initiatives. He noted that he wanted to present a clear plan moving forward in order to take full advantage of DPS’s limited resources.

“We hope to mobilize the expertise and resources of our entire community in order to build lasting partnerships and make our schools better,” Becoats said.

Becoats said Duke could support DPS with a faculty-to-faculty initiative by providing opportunities for the University to share its knowledge with public schools. He added that he envisions the University working with DPS more closely in the future in order to strengthen the academic success of students, increase the academic rigor in individual schools and educate family members on how to provide strong support systems for their children.

Ultimately, Becoats said ensuring that Duke is aware of DPS projects during the planning stages of the process will be essential to implementing collaboration effectively.

“I want to see us sitting down at a table ahead of time and figuring out what strategies can really benefit students,” he said. “Then, we can look and say ‘OK, Duke, how can you help us with this initiative?’ We don’t want it to be an afterthought anymore—we want it to be forethought.”

Jenni Owen, director of policy initiatives and associate director for policy and translation at the Center for Child and Family Policy, has been working for two years to increase the partnership between DPS and Duke. Along with David Rabiner, director of Program Evaluation Services at the center and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Owen directs the School Research Partnership Office within the center and facilitates the planning and placement of school-based research projects. Owen and Rabiner have worked with 27 students over two years to produce research projects on topics such as the evaluation of teacher effectiveness and the quality of education in juvenile detention centers.

Despite these past efforts by Duke to promote collaboration with DPS, Owen said Becoats’ initiative marks the first direct request from DPS to institutionalize a partnership with the University.

“Instead of Duke saying we have this project that we are working on and asking DPS if we can go into the schools, now DPS is saying that they want a partnership, which has created a really great two-way street,” she said.

Rabiner said what started as a simple project to allow students to do research within public schools has grown into a strong collaboration between DPS and student researchers.

One of those student researchers is senior Alex Reese, who worked directly with Becoats on an independent study on how to bring more effective teachers into the lowest performing schools. Reese noted that his independent study was an exciting research engagement because he was working on a policy problem that was directly identified by a community partner and was timely and relevant to issues plaguing Durham schools.

“What I produced for Dr. Becoats was going to be immediately implemented into policy, which was a remarkable learning opportunity for me,” Reese said. “For the first time, I felt like I was legitimately being engaged as a research partner.”

In his speech, Becoats said he hopes to bring the research done by students into faculty meetings and administrative discussions in order to ensure that the findings are effectively used within the school system. He added that he is impressed with the quality of all of the student projects he has seen and would like to see the program grow in the future.

“The research is really awesome, and I support the students’ efforts 150 percent,” he said.

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