Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett made his first visit to the one-year-old Indianapolis Public Schools/Butler University Laboratory School on May 31, 2012. He toured the school and talked with staff and the parents of students, invited for the occasion by Lab School Principal Ron Smith. College of Education Dean Ena Shelley shared this account of his visit with Butler leadership.

During his visit, Dr. Bennett heard numerous examples from parents of how their children are flourishing at the IPS/Butler Lab School. They praised the school’s individualized instruction, the teachers’ skills and transparency of practice, and the use of pedagogical documentation in making learning visible. They expressed appreciation for having St. Mary’s Child Center as a partner offering preschool programs at the Lab School site.

They noted the participation of all families in evening programs and the value of home visits by school faculty. They said the school has embraced all families, so that a real community is being built among them.

A couple families told the superintendent that the choices in the IPS system and the Lab School option influenced their decisions to relocate or stay in Indianapolis. Parents who previously lived in Boston said a Reggio-inspired school on the east coast would be a private school costing $20,000-$30,000 a year. Another parent who works in education across the country and globe called the Lab School unique in its depth of understanding of the Reggio philosophy.

Dr. Bennett was surprised at the autonomy Ron Smith has as principal, from hiring decisions to professional development of the staff. Ron was eloquent in describing the benefits of IPS’s partnership with Butler.

I talked with Dr. Bennett about how the work of Butler’s teacher preparation is visible in all aspects of Lab School. I also described the IPS/Butler partnership to develop and operate Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, Butler’s Early College program for Shortridge juniors and seniors, and the importance of a university embedding itself in a community’s P-20 education. I noted the corporate and private donor support for these public school/private university partnerships.

We briefly discussed how Butler and IPS could bring our work to scale for other Indiana schools in the future. I noted that Lab School, just like schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, is a provocation for broader change, a place where we welcome others to come and learn from and with all of us.

I think Dr. Bennett took in an important part of the dialogue focused on issues related to poverty and how they can be countered through the Reggio principle of the “image of the child” as capable, competent learners.

We discussed how poverty is used currently as an excuse for children not learning and that Butler refutes that issue by preparing teachers to see that ALL children have individual gifts they bring to their own learning. Many children live in poverty but have many strengths that teachers can discover and build upon. That part of the dialogue really seemed to get Dr. Bennett’s attention.

I wish all of you could have been in the room for this conversation. I am so proud of the work and leadership the people of Butler provide in our partnerships with IPS and other area educators. We are living the COE vision statement by preparing teachers for schools as they should be! We are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to create the Lab School and Shortridge partnerships and to continue to build upon our work with so many schools and community agencies. We are making a difference.

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