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Teacher training is critical to new graduation standards success

by Merrie Leininger

Teacher training has been a big part of preparing for the implementation of competencies for Douglas County school district students.

Superintendent Pendery Clark said teachers have been taking workshops, in-services and after-school training sessions put on by the schools and the district’s Professional Development Center.

Staff developer Brandon Swain said at the in-services, teachers are learning how to use new technology, how to teach to different levels in the same classroom and other instructional strategies.

“Teachers are concerned. Anytime there is a change that is pervasive in a system, it gets folks concerned about the way they do business and what they are going to have to do to tool up,” Swain said. “It is a lot of work, but the district has a wonderful staff that always rises to the occasion.”

Swain said that 150 teachers were involved from the beginning in developing the graduation requirements and the benchmarks students have to meet in the 3rd, 6th and 9th grades.

The center has also used on-site instructors who are geared to deal with problems that develop in individual schools.

“Also, the site accountability committees have determined a focus for each school – many have chosen reading – and we support them in instituting their own program,” Swain said.

Teachers now are piloting new ways of teaching and making sure that the students understand the material.

At the end of the month, there will be a teachers’ focus group that will address needs, Swain said.

– Not enough time. At an in-service this week at the professional services center behind Gardnerville Elementary School, teachers talked about some of their concerns.

C.C. Meneley kindergarten teacher Kari Curiel said many teachers question how, when and where students who are having problems will get intervention.

“Especially at multi-track, year-round schools, where there are children every day, what are we going to do with children who need intervention? It is a huge problem. If they get it when they are off track, who is going to teach them and were are we going to put them?” Curiel said.

Sherrie Jackson, a 6th grade teacher at C.C. Meneley, said the district has not provide enough time to put the competencies into place.

The teachers are now in the process of piloting 15 competency areas that were divided up in October between all the teachers in a grade level. However, Jackson said teachers at multi-track schools are feeling bogged down with all the new requirements.

“It is a huge load in very little amount of time,” she said.

Douglas High School 10th and 11th grade English and computer literacy teacher, Mary Roman, said teachers won’t have enough time to create new lesson plans, look over new materials and pay attention to all the students.

“A lot of enrichment that students traditionally get in high school curriculums we won’t be able to do because teachers will have to spend time in remediation and teaching to the tests. Until we get the kids who have had the competencies ever since they were in school in Douglas County, it will be a problem,” Roman said.

“Especially for teachers who teach the cores – English, math, science and social science – those teachers will be loaded up for the next couple of years,” Roman said.

Students who come into the district late in their educational careers will have serious problems, she said.

“We feel parents will have to address it. We have no control over that. Parents are going to be extremely upset,” Roman said.

Other teachers say the only problem should be getting parents involved.

Lucia Mason, a 10th grade English and drama teacher at Whittell High School, says she’s prepared.

“The competencies don’t ask us to teach what we aren’t already teaching. If I am doing a good job already, I’m doing what the competencies ask,” Mason said. “The main thing I’ve been doing – and it’s a good education practice anyway – is making sure the standards are very clearly delineated.”

n Parents. Linda Bell, who teachers 8th grade at Carson Valley Middle School, said teachers are working now to prepare the students to pass the competencies. Many parents, however, still have plenty of questions.

“My son’s friends’ parents are always calling me and asking me what their kids are going to have to take next year. So, we really do need to get the information out. I think when kids and parents know, it will be easier for kids to learn and for parents to be involved,” Bell said. “I think this will cause a lot more partnership between the school and home. I hope a lot of parents come to these meetings because it will help to get those questions answered now and troubleshoot any problems.

“The problem is it is kind of like having a meeting and the boss says this meeting is about being late. The people who are there probably don’t need to hear it,” Bell said.

Many parents don’t know anything about the new graduation requirements which go into effect with the Class of 2002, this year’s 9th graders.

Chris Nash, has a 9th grader, Kim, at Carson Valley Middle School.

“This is all new. I didn’t even know about the meetings. This is the first time I heard about any of it,” Nash said.

n Putting it into action. Scarselli teachers Kari Pommerening and Martha Framstead are hoping to put the competencies into practice in a way that makes it easier for the teachers and the students.

In October, they attended an Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development convention in Nashville and attended a workshop that showed them how to integrate the curriculum with fun lessons, rather than a “lecture” way of teaching. They also learned different ways of making testing easier.

Pommerening said they were also shown how to find more than 2,000 lesson plans on the Internet.

“It is a different avenue in which we are able to tie in all the competencies,” she said.

For instance, in the ocean unit, students do fun activities like sing “Yellow Submarine” when they are discussing ocean transportation. They watch a small section of “The Little Mermaid” and talk about the many treasures in the sea. Some students put on a debate about the pros and cons of moving oil by ship and watched a clip about the Exxon Valdez spill.

“We are going farther beyond than what’s in the ocean, and relating it to life,” Pommerening said.

Students in this setting are encouraged to personalize their lessons by bringing objects and research materials from home and taking part in discussions.

“I learn just as much or more than the students. They’ve been gathering information to share with the whole class,” she said.

The teachers at Scarselli will be learning how to do all this at a teacher workday. A district-wide workday is planned for next year.

Pommerening said this plan will help make the overwhelmed teachers feel better about the competencies.

“I believed in the competencies, but wasn’t quite sure how going to make it work. When we were at the conference, all the pieces came together, then we got really excited,” she said.

n Parent meetings. More information will be available at meetings for parents of 9th graders.

The meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 20 at Carson Valley Middle School; 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Whittell High School; and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.

For more information, call the district office at 782-5134.

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