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Regents approve Price Lab closure

Executive Editor

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2012 10:03


JOHN ANDERSON/Northern Iowan

UNI College of Education Dean Dwight Watson speaks with reporters about pending university cuts in the Great Reading Room on Feb. 23.

The Iowa Board of Regents voted this afternoon to approve University of Northern Iowa President Benjamin Allen's recommendation to close Malcolm Price Laboratory School by June 30, 2012. The closure now moves onto the state legislature for approval.

Regent Robert Downer abstained from the vote, as he wished to first seek the Iowa Attorney General's counsel on the legality of the board's decision. His motion to defer the bill failed to gain a second. The rest of the board members voted in favor of closing the school.

The board's motion stipulates that UNI must present a progress report with transition plans at their April 25-26 meeting at UNI.

During the board's telephonic meeting, Allen emphasized the university's commitment to being the premiere preK-12 higher education institution in the state of Iowa and among the best in the nation.

"I recognize the uncertainty surrounding the future of the laboratory school creates real anxiety for students and their parents as well as our university students, faculty and staff," he said. "I want to assure everyone that we are committed to providing the support necessary to make the transition process as smooth as possible."

The university will work with the Cedar Falls and Waterloo school districts to provide new clinical experiences for education students to replace the current Level II field experiences, which students fulfill at Price Lab. Allen said the institution is looking to expand its Professional Development School model and to adopt a distributed model to provide an "outstanding array of clinical experiences."

These models will integrate UNI faculty in public schools to support supervision and placement of UNI education students.

"One of the current concerns about faculty teachers is finding the time to supervise and place and model, and if we could offset some of those concerns by having some of our personnel in the schools, that would be very helpful," said Dwight Watson, dean of the College of Education.

Watson emphasized the importance of proximity for the Level II clinical placements, proposing that such placements may be typically closer to the university while later field experiences would occur farther away.

David Stoakes, the superintendent for the Cedar Falls school district, believes the current Professional Development model, which was implemented three years ago, can be expanded to "easily" handle the number of preservice teachers the districts would have with Price Lab's clOsure.

Gary Norris, the Waterloo superintendent, emphasized that the districts have a combined 1,200 teachers students could work with, compared to Price Lab's 50.

"We want to partner to provide UNI students with rich, authentic teacher preparation experiences," he said. "I am confident that our teacher ed students and the great teacher ed faculty here at the university will always feel welcomed and supported at Waterloo."

The university also looks to utilize a think tank approach to education research and development involving faculty and staff primarily from the COE, but also incorporating faculty from the other three colleges, both those involved in teacher education and those not. Allen said the university will also make funding arrangements to allow faculty from other universities, practitioners, Department of Education staff and others to participate.

UNI's research and development will be strengthened by being located in the COE and not in Price Lab, he said.

Allen also said the university would partner with school districts across the state in order to deal with issues specific to different communities, such as potentially partnering with Des Moines and Cedar Rapids to deal with urban issues.

"A lot of areas in western Iowa are not well served by us now, I think, by having the Price Lab school here," he said.

Allen said the university's financial realities, including a $5 million deficit it faced at the beginning of the year, influenced the timing of his recommendation.

"The Price Lab school has had a rich history and has impacted the lives of many, and the sense of loss is not to be minimized," he said.

Allen acknowledged the lack of faculty input sought during the decision-making process, a move he made in an attempt to avoid generating fear, and stated his appreciation for the critical comments made about the approach. Allen emphasized the importance of incorporating UNI faculty and staff as the university looks to transition PreK-12 students to new schools, UNI students moving to a different type of clinical experience and the changing roles of the faculty in the college.

"We know that for this to be sustainable … we would need to have the guidance and the input and the good thinking of the faculty," he said.

The Regents spoke in support of Allen and his leadership of the university.

"I know there are lots of folks that disagree with this recommendation, but no one should doubt Ben's motives or suggest that he has come to these recommendations with anything other than his most earnest consideration of what is best for UNI, our students and the people of Iowa," said Regent David Miles.

"There should be no joy in the actions we're taking today, even though I think ultimately they will lead to a brighter future for UNI," Miles added. "Rather, this should be a wake-up call to the damage that ongoing cuts to our universities have already caused and to the threat that further cuts pose to Iowa's future."

Miles spoke against legislators who continue to cut higher education funding despite the 24-percent reductions in state appropriations UNI has seen over the last four years.

"I decry the shortsightedness of those who do not value public higher education in our state," he said. "It is time to stop the cuts before it's too late."

Craig Lang, board president, voiced his full confidence in Allen and his commitment to making difficult, strategic and courageous decisions at a "critical point" for UNI.

"The future of the University of Northern Iowa is in excellent hands," he said.


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