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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Alabama residents look to P.K. Yonge for school model

Rivals in football, teammates in education.

A group of 27 residents from the town of Pike Road, Ala., traveled to Gainesville last week to visit the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, a public school governed by the UF's College of Education.

Pike Road officials have worked for several years to develop a school system within the town's limits. The group of residents visited P.K. Yonge because the school serves as a model for the type of professional development program they hope to build in their hometown, said Patty Payne, a resident who made the trip.

P.K. Yonge, which enrolls about 1,150 elementary, middle and high school students, functions as a department in the College of Education and collaborates with the college to provide research opportunities and create effective teaching strategies, P.K. Yonge Director Fran Vandiver said.

Pike Road hopes to establish this kind of education system, said Payne, who has worked for the town since 2006.

The nearest public high school is 20 miles away from Pike Road, she said. The town, part of Montgomery County, wants more local control of education.

Pike Road Mayor Gordon Stone led the visit to P.K. Yonge, Payne said. He selected residents from almost every neighborhood to represent the town.

Payne said that Stone, who serves as executive director of the Higher Education Partnership Foundation, an organization formed to promote higher education in Alabama, is interested in a partnership between institutes of higher learning and primary education, much like the partnership between P.K. Yonge and UF.

Pike Road is located within 40 miles of Alabama State University, Auburn Montgomery, Auburn University and Troy University, she said. All four universities have agreed to partnership commitments.

"If I had to explain P.K. Yonge in one phrase, I would say it was like one big group hug," Payne said. "I was amazed at the sense of appreciation and respect everyone had for one another."

Although the education project has been in the works for more than three years, no definitive time frame has been set for construction in Pike Road.

Under Alabama law, towns must claim 5,000 residents to create a new school district. Payne said she believes Pike Road has satisfied that requirement, but the town must wait for census verification.

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Eventually, the town hopes to build two elementary schools and one co-located middle and high school.

"We don't want to open a school and then 30 years later have it be the same," Payne said. "We want to grow and change with technology and seek the best education for our children. After visiting P.K. Yonge, we are excited about the possibilities."

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