Faculty members lend expertise to Smaller Learning Community initiatives

James McDougal and Michael LeBlanc of SUNY Oswego’s counseling and psychological services department are helping the Syracuse City School District serve students better through the Smaller Learning Communities initiative.

A $60,000 grant over three years from the U.S. Department of Education, part of a nationwide $1.2 million allocation, supports their work.

The program teams schoolteachers from different disciplines to work with specific groups of students—“smaller learning communities.”

“They will have a greater chance to connect with students,” McDougal said. “The idea is to connect with students individually so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of 1,500 other kids.”

There is a focus both on current student performance and post-graduation success, including working with businesses to show career opportunities and how skills learned in the classroom translate to the outside world.

“Really what the Smaller Learning Communities project is designed to do is increase the achievement, attendance and performance of high schoolers,” McDougal said. It includes a focus on supporting high-needs students, particularly in stemming high dropout rates, he added.

The Oswego professors are working with four Syracuse high schools: Corcoran, Fowler, Henninger and Nottingham.

Their role in the project is to develop a comprehensive evaluation model, monitor the process, solicit feedback and provide input to the four high schools so that participants know how use the evaluation results to continually improve the process.

McDougal and LeBlanc bring experience and expertise to the project. McDougal has performed staff development, program design and evaluation, plus he contributes field experience that includes time as the Syracuse City School District’s mental health coordinator. LeBlanc has a background in and teaches research design, statistics and assessment. He will lead data development and analysis.

The program’s comprehensive approach involves analyzing and improving such factors as graduation, retention, grade promotion, test scores and attendance. SLC projects involve a diverse group of stakeholders that includes students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and sometimes business partners.

The Oswego professors’ evaluation will measure how much stakeholders find they benefit from the project, feel an increased sense of achievement, and understand the project’s goals and involvement.

In addition to the opportunity to use their skills and knowledge to benefit a school district in the area, the SUNY Oswego faculty members said that any successes they achieve can become models to help improve school systems elsewhere, McDougal said.

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(Posted: Mar 09, 2005)