Letters to the Editor

WCU-Jackson Schools partnership is valuable

To the Editor:

I am an emeritus faculty member in the College of Education and Allied Professions at Western Carolina University. I am concerned about the possible ending of the cooperative agreement between WCU and the Jackson County Public Schools regarding the Catamount School.

I am closely related to individuals in both entities, including the Catamount School. I have worked with faculty and students in both. From my direct observations, I believe removing the Catamount School from the Jackson County school site would be a mistake for Jackson County students and teachers. However, for several reasons, I think the broader implications of such an action are even more important.

First, there has been a long, fruitful two-way relationship between the JCPS and WCU. Over 80 years ago, Carl Killian, a WCU psychology professor, started the first child guidance, reading and speech and hearing clinics in the area. He provided the first audio-visual materials to the schools. He was instrumental in bringing the Teacher Corps and Head Start to the county. Since Killian’s time, countless WCU faculty members from across the university have provided workshops, consultations, tutoring, and many other services to the JCPS, usually without compensation. In return, JCPS has provided expertise, mentoring and supervision of WCU teachers in preparation. Our teachers and children in Jackson County have benefited from these collaborations. It would be a shame to see this long history of cooperation affected by something as minor as an issue of space.

Second, as a child psychologist, I believe children and youth need as many options for success as possible. For many reasons, students I have worked with and observed at the Catamount School have struggled in their prior placements. Providing fewer options for those students is not helpful. What they often need are the relationships that can be built in small, stable settings like a lab school.

 Finally, the media reports have focused on only one part of the intended purpose of the state’s laboratory schools, serving underachieving students. An equally important legislated purpose of the lab schools is the enhancement of teacher preparation. I have been involved in teacher preparation for almost a half century. I know of no better model for preparing good teachers than a high-quality laboratory school. When teachers in preparation can observe master teachers in action and then critique and discuss what they have seen, opportunities for learning are maximized. The Catamount School offers just such opportunities. Good teachers have never been harder to find. Fewer strong students are entering the profession. It is hard for me to believe that the JCPS does not want to be part of an effort to educate more potential North Carolina teachers in this effective way.

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There has been talk about building a new middle-level school in Jackson County. There has probably never been a more important time for educators in JCPS and WCU to find creative ways to work together. We need to model Carl Killian to find ways to provide more options for our county’s children, not fewer.

Bruce B. Henderson

Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology

Western Carolina University

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