Newsmaker: Jill Strandson Cote ’01 collaborates to help students, teachers

-“In my opinion, an excellent school is one that embraces the community in which it lives,” says Jill Strandson Cote ’01, who is a part of just such a community. She is a math specialist for grades one through three at the Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, R.I., among the state’s most densely populated and poorest communities. “I was drawn to the school’s commitment to teaching and challenging all students and including all families. Many people feel that poverty is a barrier to education, meaning that if you are poor, we should have a lower expectation for what you can achieve. At the Learning Community, we believe that attending a school that has high standards isn’t a privilege; it is a civil right.” A psychology and elementary education major while at Wheaton, Cote provides extra instructional services to students who need more support to perform at the national benchmark for their grade level, and works with teachers to help them set professional goals around improving reading instruction. She also plays an important role in the school’s collaboration with the local public school district. The Learning Community serves the same demographic population as the district public school system, but accepts students by lottery. In the true spirit of community, the charter school’s partnership provides coaches who share their instructional techniques with public school teachers. “In school systems, particularly larger urban systems, teacher voice and teacher leadership can get lost. …We need to equip them with the latest instructional strategies and create systems that will support the classroom teacher when students fall behind,” Cote says. This highly successful effort has drawn attention from the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as from NBC Nightly News, where Cote was featured in an interview conducted by correspondent Chelsea Clinton in the “Making a Difference” segment. The segment focused on the fact that charter school and public school teachers are working together in the best interests of children.