A partnership between Waco Independent School District and Baylor University is getting national attention for its ability to prepare future teachers through field experience in Waco schools.

The district and Baylor’s School of Education were recognized this month with the Exemplary Professional Development School Achievement Award from the National Association for Professional Development Schools.

The honor makes Baylor the only university to have a teacher preparation program, or a Professional Development School partnership, win the award back-to-back. Last year, Baylor was recognized with award for its partnership with Midway ISD, according to a Baylor press release.

The award is given to partnerships where the work “creates and sustains genuine collaborative relationships” between kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and higher education, the press release states.

“The NAPDS award demonstrates the high value we place on the partnership between the School of Education and Waco ISD partner schools,” Terrill Saxon, interim dean of the Baylor School of Education, said in the press release. “We believe everyone involved benefits — the children, our preservice teachers, Waco ISD mentor teachers and other administrators. The ultimate goal is to positively affect children’s learning in the classroom by providing future teachers with the best preparation. This partnership is a fundamental part of that preparation.”

Waco ISD and Baylor’s partnership started 25 years ago, at Hillcrest PDS Elementary Magnet School. The partnership has since expanded across six Waco ISD schools and serves more than 90 Baylor students, said Yolanda Williams, the district’s assistant superintendent of school improvement.

Baylor students serve in the schools starting as sophomores, when they visit for two hours a week. Junior teaching assistants visit three hours a day Monday through Thursday, and senior teaching interns work in Waco ISD classrooms all day Monday through Thursday for the full school year.

Waco ISD has 40 teacher interns and 57 teaching assistants, said Williams, who serves as the district liaison for the partnership.

“It’s had a positive impact, a tremendously positive impact on our teaching strategies and providing assistance to our teachers and our students,” Williams said. “The interns utilize best practices, so it’s an opportunity for our teachers to learn as our interns are learning. It’s a shared opportunity for growth.”

As a Baylor senior, Gabby Salazar has gained teaching experience six semesters out of her last eight through the partnership, she said. She works in a first-grade class at Hillcrest.

“I feel so ready to have my own classroom,” Salazar said. “I felt ready after last semester, honestly. Now, it’s about fine-tuning. I’m figuring out my teaching style and my version of classroom management. It’s just so cool I’ve had this much time to figure everything out and feel so well prepared for the job force.”

From writing lesson plans to attending faculty meetings and teaching curriculum, Baylor students are fully immersed and work side-by-side with professional educators, Hillcrest Principal Amy Mathews-Perez said.

If Waco ISD has open teaching positions, the program gives Baylor students a leg up on other new graduates because they are already familiar with Waco ISD students and best practices, Mathews-Perez said.

“It feels good to know we’re part of a bigger picture that’s positively impacting education in public schools,” she said. “It feels great to know that the ongoing efforts, the flexibility and collaboration it takes to have a 25-year-program be successful is recognized.”

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