IU Southeast alumni and teacher candidates propel Northaven Elementary to community partnership award

1st March 2021

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Northaven Elementary School of Jeffersonville, Indiana has been recognized as an Outstanding Community Partner by the Indiana Campus Compact.

Formed in 1993, Indiana Campus Compact is a partnership of college and university presidents and chancellors who have committed themselves and their institutions to their communities through mutually beneficial and meaningful collaborations to create engaged citizens and vibrant communities.

Indiana University, including its regional campuses, is a founding member.

Northaven Elementary is recognized for its unique and productive partnership with IU Southeast, the nominating institution.

Northaven Elementary School is part of the Greater Clark County Schools (GCCS) corporation. In 2019, 523 students were enrolled in the P-5 program. Almost 30 percent of Northaven’s students are English language learners (ELLs), and 75 percent are on free or reduced lunch, an indicator of widespread poverty.

IU Southeast and Northaven Elementary began their long-term partnership in 2016 when IU Southeast graduate Laura Morris became principal. At that time, Northaven was dealing with a sudden influx of English Learners who spoke 13 different languages. In search of teacher candidates to help with Northaven students’ academic challenges, Morris reached out to GCCS, who connected her with Professors Debi Mink and Jacqueline Singleton in the IU Southeast School of Education.

“She was trying to build a team of teachers who believed that every child can learn,” said Mink, professor emeritus of elementary education, who nominated Northaven for the award.

Previously, Morris had taught second graders at Northaven, and knew the school’s teachers had strong subject-matter knowledge and a collaborative culture that thrived on challenges. She relied on the school’s “whatever it takes” attitude in introducing new approaches.

Morris encouraged teachers to collect and analyze data to identify areas for improvement. Noticing lower performance trends in mathematics instruction and learning, Morris engaged Lyndsay Combs, the GCCS mathematics coach and a fellow IU Southeast alumna, as well as ELL teachers, to step up mathematical thinking.

“Lyndsay helped us learn new strategies using manipulatives and deeper thinking with problem solving,” Morris said. “Our ELL teachers began co-teaching in mathematics classes to help with mathematical academic vocabulary and increase instructional opportunities for all students.”

Of all the reforms she has launched, Morris is most proud of Northaven’s “equity journey.” It began, as always, with a distillation of difficult truths: data revealed that there were inequities in discipline, with African-American males more likely to receive referrals or suspensions.

“This really hit us hard because we felt like we were such a kind, caring, faculty that did not have a lot of bias,” Morris said. “However, the data told a different story.”

Morris and her team transformed their discipline process, and are implementing an action plan that includes professional development on implicit bias, restorative practices and a new Student Response Team.

Partnering with IU Southeast has also been transformative, for both Northaven and the college.

“The partnership gave us the opportunity for assistance in the classroom and for student teachers to learn how we want teachers to instruct,” Morris said.

Today the IU Southeast/ Northaven partnership includes early clinical experience teacher candidates, student teachers and IU Southeast graduates who are now full-time faculty members. 

The long-term relationship has allowed Morris to leverage her clinical experiences in California and Indiana to create “The Northaven Way.”

“Most teachers do what their teachers did when they were in school, but  our systems here are very different,” Morris said. “In discipline we stay calm and help the student manage conflict and regulate, in mathematics we are not teaching formulas, short cuts, and algorithms until students naturally figure out the pattern, and in reading, there is a lot of reading and writing and less teacher talk, with the teacher working in small groups for an hour.”

Early on, Morris, Mink and Singleton saw the virtue in truly embedding candidates in the school–extending the duration of their clinical practicum and involving them in a wider range of teaching. So Northaven teachers mentor undergraduates to help better prepare the teacher candidates to teach all content areas to all students, including ELs, gifted/talented and students with special needs.

The success of this Service-Learning/Clinical Experience program is evident through its impact on both the children and the university teacher candidates.

The faculty, staff and students benefit academically from the extra instructor in the classroom, while the teacher candidates attend the weekly professional development activities and are included in all discussions as “junior faculty members.” Over the past four years, more than 100 IU Southeast teacher candidates and student teachers have become a part of the Northaven family, and several have been hired as full-time staff members. Because of the work environment and cameraderie at Northaven, each semester several teacher candidates who completed early clinical experiences at Northaven request to go back to student teach.

Morris identifies tangible benefits for Northaven from its partnership with IU Southeast.

“Northaven has seen a rebirth with the partnership with IU Southeast,” Morris said. “Our school grade has gone up to an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ from the State of Indiana, and our students see above-average growth in reading and mathematics.”

In nominating Northaven for this award, Mink and the School of Education acknowledged the vision and commitment of the entire Northaven team in building a relationship that benefits both institutions.

In the words of the awarding organization: “Indiana Campus Compact recognizes the incredible dedication and work that our partner institutions’ community partners put into co-educating their students. We recognize that whether we talk about community service, service-learning, community-based research, or any other form of community engagement, institutions are not doing the work alone.”

For Morris, the partnership holds a personal significance.

A single mother when she was a student, Morris is proud to see her own son now approaching graduation at IU Southeast. Her father was part of the first four-year graduating class before going on to be a teacher and principal in New Albany Floyd County Schools. 

“We have the Grenadier legacy going on,” Morris said. “So it means a lot to me.”

Homepage photo courtesy of Northaven Elementary School.

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