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Teachers complain about added pressure of competencies

by Merrie Leininger

The new competency system is a lot to understand and, despite the efforts put forth by Douglas County School District Administration, teachers who spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting said they were feeling overworked, underpaid and under pressure because of the new competencies.

Coordinator of Competencies Cris Etchegoyhen and Coordinator of Assessments Janice Florey have been working non-stop on forming the competency system and the methods for testing in that system for many years now.

Both addressed the board to explain how teachers had been involved in the process at the request of Superintendent Pendery Clark after the board had listened to complaints from teachers during the last few board meetings.

Etchegoyhen said the secondary school teacher committees have been meeting since 1995-1996. They wrote the first drafts of the competencies and the graduation requirements the next year. The first year of piloting the new material in classes was 1997-98. Etchegoyhen said there was a district-wide meeting to explain what was being piloted to the teachers, and at that time, mandatory feedback forms were made available. The writing teams then reconvened to go through the forms and make adjustments. More formal course objectives were written for specific classes.

“If one teacher said the competencies were too hard for her class and one said they were too easy, we went through all the forms and tried to take the majority opinion. We went with what was most consistently being said. I can see how some people may feel their feedback wasn’t reflected in the revisions,” Etchegoyhen said.

The writing teams took more feedback for a second year and also made adjustments to align the competencies with the state standards.

Etchegoyhen explained a similar process took place with the elementary teachers leading the writing teams for their grade levels.

Florey said the assessment writing teams were also formed with teachers who volunteered their time.

“I talked to all the principals, so there was an opportunity for teachers from every school to be a part of the teams,” Florey said. “The teachers set up the rubrics from scratch and took them back to their staff to share and get input. Northwest (testing company) sometimes substituted questions, but most of the teachers’ questions remained.”

Etchegoyhen and Florey both said every teacher who wanted the opportunity to participate in the process had that opportunity. They said feedback forms have been available in all the schools throughout the process, but Etchegoyhen said she has only received about 15 forms this year.

“There’s a real high anxiety about the unknown. Generally, after it is administered and the teachers see the kids can do it, the anxiety dissipates,” Florey said.

Etchegoyhen said five to seven teachers worked on the secondary school writing teams and eight to 10 teachers worked on elementary writing teams. Florey said four to eight teachers worked on the assessment writing teams.

Etchegoyhen and Clark denied rumors that they had changed the teacher teams’ work.

Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School teacher Rommy Cronin said during public comment, that while that was all well and good, there still was a perception that the administration does not care about the teachers.

“We have so many teachers who feel disenfranchised with the process. On a daily basis I get a huge number of papers in my box. You can’t just stick another paper in there and expect me to see it. There is a break-down in communication. You’ve got to talk to the teachers face to face,” she said.

Dana Kyle, also a PWLMS teacher, said she has seen employee morale decline heavily in the five years she has been a teacher there because of a decline in support for teachers, the added pressure of the competencies and especially because of the break-down in negotiations. Kyle reminded the board that they needed to be good leaders and listen to their teachers.

Carson Valley Middle School Principal Rita Elliot spoke up for Etchegoyhen and Florey.

“They’ve been there every time they’ve been asked. They have made themselves available to give information to the staff,” Elliot told the board.

n Outdoors. The board heard a positive report from PWLMS teacher Karen Dorf and Juvenile Probation Outdoor Program Coordinator Shaunda Vasey. They introduced two student participants in the school’s Outdoor Club, who give glowing reviews of the program.

Vasey said she was approached by Dorf about taking PWLMS students on the weekend and summer outdoor trips. Vasey takes groups of children who are on probation on trips every weekend.

Vasey said the Outdoor Club went on eight trips in the first semester – for a variety of activities such as kayaking, showshoeing, rock climbing and white-water rafting.

Dorf said it has been a positive partnership between the school district and the probation department. Vasey explained her program is funded by the Bureau of Drugs and Alcohol and the Byrne Grant, which encourages her to use the program as a preventative measure to keep kids out of trouble. The JPO department provides transportation and insurance while the students are with Vasey.