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Whitworth, Gonzaga and Spokane Public Schools partner to improve student learning at Holmes Elementary

July 18, 2013

The Washington State Legislature has awarded a $500,000 grant that supports a partnership between Whitworth University, Gonzaga University and Spokane Public Schools to improve student learning and educational services at Holmes Elementary School, in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood.

The primary objective of the partnership is to address the opportunity gap at Holmes by providing teaching, learning, and technological resources through a partnership between the universities, the district and community agencies. Another objective is to employ a residency-based teacher preparation model for education students from Whitworth and Gonzaga, utilizing a research-based co-teaching approach to student teaching. Whitworth and Gonzaga education students will be able to gain hands-on experience in Holmes’s classrooms as they assist students, staff and administrators at the school.

“This grant really validates the work that is being done by Whitworth, Gonzaga and our school district partners,” says Debbie Tully, associate dean for teacher education and school partnerships at Whitworth. “Building on the foundation of the planning and work of the professional learning communities, we have crafted a program that is responsive to the needs assessment data, best-practices in professional development and most importantly, the needs of the students at Holmes.”

The grant proposal was developed collaboratively among faculty members from Whitworth, Gonzaga and Spokane Public Schools. The grant was awarded after a year of planning and assessment at Holmes by the same institutions, as well as by Washington State University.

“This grant creates ongoing opportunities for students and faculty to engage in community-based research, and for students to have internship opportunities that will help bring curricula to life and prepare them for their vocational endeavors,” says Keith Kelley, director of service learning and community engagement at Whitworth. “There truly is no better place to find real-world educational opportunities than out in one’s own community.”

Nearly every classroom at Holmes will have at least one Whitworth or Gonzaga student who will assist in classroom education. Tully hopes to also place counseling students and administrative interns in the school. Once best practices are identified, the data will eventually be disseminated to other schools across the state, particularly high-need schools.

“It is so inspiring to work with a collection of distinguished professionals within the educational arena,” says Kelley. “From John Traynor (professor for graduate studies in education at Gonzaga University), to Debbie Tully, to Steve Barnes (principal of Holmes Elementary) and Stephanie Lundberg (assistant principal), the West Central community is blessed to have such focused support from such a terrific collection of community leaders.”

Tully says the grant will help Whitworth be even more intentional about how the university leverages its resources to support staff and students at the elementary school. Holmes has one of the highest percentages of at-risk, low-achieving students in the Spokane school district. The West Central Neighborhood has been a major focus for Whitworth’s Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement. Some Whitworth faculty members have moved into the area in an effort to have a more direct impact on the work that is being done there.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Debbie Tully, associate dean for teacher education and school partnerships, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4369 or

Lucas Beechinor, media relations manager, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or