Maxfield Elementary Collaborative Learning School
Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Partners With St. Paul Public Schools to Enhance Teacher Prep

Maxfield Elementary School – which serves 350 pre-K-5 students – will officially become a Collaborative Learning School starting in fall 2023, university and district officials announced. In addition to having teacher candidates from St. Thomas’ School of Education assisting and learning from Maxfield teachers in the classroom, university faculty members will have opportunities to conduct research alongside the teachers and students that will ultimately enhance instructional methods and other practices.

SPPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard, Maxfield Elementary School Principal Dr. Leslie Hitchens and School of Education Interim Dean Dr. Amy Smith speak during a announcement on Jan. 27, 2023, that Saint Paul Public School Maxfield Elementary has been named a Collaborative Learning School in partnership with the University of St. Thomas.
(Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The result of this two-way partnership will be teaching methods that can continually evolve to meet children’s learning needs, as well as university graduates fully equipped to enter an educational workforce that needs more teachers to serve an increasingly diverse student population.

Dr. Amy Smith, St. Thomas’ School of Education interim dean. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

“For our teacher candidates, this will be a truly immersive experience that helps to remove the gap between learning theory in the classroom and then applying those lessons in the field,” said Dr. Amy Smith, St. Thomas’ School of Education interim dean. “St. Thomas students will gain the critical skills they need for their teaching careers, while providing more resources and tools for Maxfield teachers to support their students.”

Serving primarily African American, Hmong and Latino students, Maxfield has served the Rondo neighborhood for 130 years. This new partnership comes at a time when Minnesota faces a disparity gap in educational outcomes in testing and graduation rates of students of color compared to white students. The leaders expect the collaborative learning environment will be a way to not only increase educational outcomes for the elementary students, but also better inform the methods of future teachers as they train under Maxfield’s veteran educators.

“Maxfield Elementary has a long history of serving the students and families of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, and is the perfect school to expand the district’s already strong partnership with the University of St. Thomas,” said SPPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard, who on Friday made the announcement alongside Smith and Maxfield Principal Dr. Leslie Hitchens. “By working together, we believe this innovative model will enhance our students’ ability to think critically, pursue their dreams and change the world.”

The student teachers from the University of St. Thomas, who are on track to receive bachelor’s or master’s degrees in elementary education, will be guided by Maxfield’s teachers to gain hands-on experience and opportunities to receive critical feedback, Hitchens explained. Maxfield’s teachers will then be able to incorporate new teaching methods based on emerging research from the university.

Several Maxfield Elementary School teachers and Principal Dr. Leslie Hitchens (front row, left) met with School of Education Interim Dean Dr. Amy Smith (back row, second from left) in November 2022.

“Through the innovative collaborative learning model, everyone will learn from each other,” Hitchens said. “We all have our benefits as to how this will work.”

Also unique to this model compared to similar programs across the nation is that St. Thomas will have a classroom within Maxfield for instructing its School of Education students.

“That was one of my criteria for this partnership,” Hitchens said. “Maxfield is a community school, and its teachers need to be here to fully understand that community.”

The collaboration will place six to eight teacher candidates to complete yearlong field experiences at Maxfield each year, in addition to initiatives to help improve reading and math literacy. Starting this spring, St. Thomas students and faculty will bring a math enrichment program, the Rational Number Project, to third grade classrooms. And the award-winning Playful Learning Lab at St. Thomas will lend expertise as well. Smith said she’s already seeing enthusiasm from her teacher candidates.

“The beauty of this partnership is how we have from the very beginning come together in a really collaborative way and that we’re all working toward the same main goal: to continually improve outcomes for K-5 learners not just at Maxfield, but at any elementary school,” Smith said. “The collaboration with Maxfield enables us to do that because it’s a vibrant school that has wonderful community support and excellent leadership.”

Archie Black (l) and Jane McDonald Black. McDonald Black heads JAB Foundation.

“The Maxfield Collaborative Learning School doesn’t just benefit from St. Thomas, but St. Thomas professors benefit from having that relationship to actual children in the classroom,” said Jane McDonald Black, a longtime education advocate whose JAB Foundation funded a feasibility study that examined the benefits of the collaboration. “It is really important for professors to have that connection to children and the ability to marry the practical and the theoretical.

“These two organizations are both really strong organizations and I see them making each other stronger. It is more work to do it this way, but to have the opportunity (for the two schools) to influence each other, that is an amazing opportunity.”