Tag Archives: professional development

Recap: First meeting of the 2012-13 school year

Super short meeting to open the 2012-13 school year: the meeting started at 6:20 p.m. and was over by 7:30 p.m. There were a few contracts on the agenda, most notably a group of contracts valued at over $15 million for non-public school tuition or non-public agency fees paid to educate students with disabilities placed out of district (either as a result of lawsuits or mutual agreement between the district and the child’s parents/guardians). Other contracts of note:

  • Partners in School Innovation – $468,000 to provide professional development for teachers in the Bayview and Mission Superintendent’s Zone schools;
  • UCSF – $200,000 to provide doctors and athletic trainers for interscholastic athletic events;
  • Language Bank – $190,000 to provide translation and interpretation services at IEP meetings and parent trainings;
  • Stetson & Associates – $135,000 to provide professional development for teachers to increase their knowledge of inclusive practices for students.

In other news, Commissioner Fewer introduced a resolution calling for one early release day per week, where — starting this school year — students would be dismissed one hour early on Wednesdays in order to give teachers common planning and professional development time.  That one-hour loss of instructional time would be made up by “banking” 15 minutes per day — usually accomplished by shortening recess/lunch times or adding a few more minutes at the beginning or end of a day.  The proposal will be heard in committee early next month, then return to the full Board for a vote (assuming there are no additional changes or research required by district staff) in late September or early October. 

Many of the middle schools already have two “late start” days per month — students arrive at school one hour later, affording time for professional development or common planning by teachers.

Superintendent  Carranza gave upbeat opening remarks, discussing the successful Administrator Institute two weeks ago, his expectations that our district’s showing on the STAR (CST) test (results will be available August 31) will be very strong, and announcing his new Twitter handle: @SFUSD_Supe.

Are you ready for school to start? I am. School starts this coming Monday, August 20 — five days and counting!

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For kids, it’s a day off. For the district, it’s a beginning.

Friday, March 4. It’s a day I’ve been hearing about and looking forward to for a while. Today, students are not at school because it’s a district-wide professional development (training) day. And at every school, every member of the staff will receive a half-day of training on how to include students with disabilities.

It’s past time, and today is just a start. But I think it’s also appropriate to pause and reflect on how far we have come in two short years. When I joined the Board in January 2009, the idea that we would devote any time in a precious professional development day (let alone HALF of that day) to improving our special education practices as a district was kind of unthinkable. But here we are.

As part of today’s training, staff at every school will watch a five-minute video that underscores the district’s commitment to improving special education services and expanding our capacity to be inclusive of students with disabilities.  It’s meant to both set the vision for the future, and highlight some bright spots in the district where we are already doing the work of inclusion thoughtfully and successfully. OK, yes, videos are not action — they are not hard evidence that things will really change.  But this video does represent a promise, from the Superintendent himself, expressed more directly and publicly than I have heard it before.  I’m told the video will be posted on the district web site, and I’ll post a link when that happens.

Lessons from a high school turnaround

The Daily Howler dinged me (and many others) on accepting the “outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools” statement at face value. Turns out that this statistic isn’t accurate, so I’ve removed that reference (overstrike text marks my edits). I still think this high school has had successes that demand some attention.

Today the New York Times has what feels to me to be a very important article on a high school turnaround in Massachusetts. A decade ago, Brockton High was a “dropout factory,” with just a quarter of the students passing state exams and a third dropping out entirely.  But in each of the past two years, the school — 4,100 students, 69 percent of whom are eligible for free/reduced-price lunch — has outperformed 90 percent of the high schools in the state.

What happened? How did the school respond? According to an in-depth Harvard report summarized in the Times article, a small group of teachers began meeting on Saturdays to look at data and discuss reform:

The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.

The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.

The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.

I haven’t read the Harvard report, so I don’t know what additional investments were made in professional development for teachers (the Times article makes it sound as if teachers worked together to train each other with minimal outside PD). The school is now bringing in a consultant to help with mathematics instruction, since students’ progress in math is still behind. I bring this up because the lightning rod National Urban Alliance contract is coming back on the Board agenda tonight. ($250k to train 100 teachers; some people like their approach and others don’t. I’m still not going to vote for it, though it will likely pass anyway.)  It seems to me that Brockton High got it right — teachers worked together to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, supported each other in learning more effective strategies, THEN brought in outside expertise when a weakness was identified that couldn’t be addressed in-house.

I think there are a lot of lessons in the Times’ Brockton High article, but the key one is that focusing on instruction and supporting teachers to work together can bring about reform in even the most chaotic schools.

NY Times: Teach your teachers well

This morning’s New York Times features a provocative Op-Ed on teacher training programs. If you were a teacher, how would reading this make you feel?

Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren’t working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers.

I am not sure that bashing the rigor of teacher training programs does anything to advance the author’s suggestion that the profession should attract students with better academic records. Instead, we should create policies, programs and compensation schemes that will convince the best and the brightest that we will give them respect and a decent standard of living if they choose teaching as a career. The piece does, however, go on to make some great suggestions, such as:

  • Spend “less time studying specific instructional programs and learning how to handle mechanics like making lesson plans,” and instead encourage prospective teachers to continue studying the disciplines they want to teach – “It makes no sense at all to stop studying the thing you want to teach at the very moment you begin to learn how.”
  • Take a page from programs that train therapists, which encourage students to videotape their sessions and go over their work with mentors and peers. Similarly, “young teachers need to record their daily encounters with their classrooms and then, with mentors and peers, have serious, open-minded conversations about what’s working and what isn’t.”
  • Help prospective teachers learn “how to watch children, using research and theory to understand what they are seeing,” because disregarding “the developmental needs of our students  it’s unlikely we’ll succeed in teaching them.”
  • Finally, hire new teachers in groups of seven or more. “This way, talented eager young teachers won’t languish or leave teaching because they felt bored, inept, isolated or marginalized. Instead, they will feel part of a robust community of promising professionals. They will struggle and learn together.”