Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — An increase in teacher time away from the classroom is allegedly improving instructional time in the classroom, and helping Alamosa Elementary (AE) teachers prepare for the future.
Recent concern over the proposed 2013-2014 Alamosa School District (ASD) calendar has sent the 10-month schedule back to the planning team in order to address student early release days for teacher Professional Learning Community (PLC) time that Alamosa Elementary Associate Principal Christy McBee said is crucial to raising student achievement.
For the past three years, the ASD worked with West Ed, a Sacramento-based education research, development and service agency, to design a vertical curriculum focused on the Common Core State Standards.
Today, McBee said the AE teachers are implementing the reading, writing, spelling, science, social studies and math curriculum designed to close the gaps through secondary studies. The curriculum is strongly tied to “collaboration,” which is filling another void.
“The teachers are preparing lessons, together, collaboratively, during PLC so that you can walk into this school and know that every first grader in the eight first grade classes that we have is getting the same information,” McBee said in an interview last week. “West Ed helped us to develop a curriculum and, as Colorado is shifting towards the Common Core State Standards, we’re moving towards going deeper. We know that students need to write and read to apply knowledge instead of regurgitate knowledge.”
The teachers worked with West Ed to develop the curriculum over a series of summer vacations, and the ASD is using every Monday afternoon this year to work towards its successful implementation through analyzing student data, she said.
“PLC time is for those people who wrote the curriculum to guide the team and for the team to guide the people who wrote it to make it stronger,” McBee said. “There are expertise galore around here and being able to share that during PLC time is very beneficial. Scheduling and logistics have been a bit of a problem, but that is better this year.”
Although it might be better, according to McBee and her staff, it is nowhere near perfect.
“In order for us to raise student achievement, we have to have time to collaborate with our colleagues,” said veteran AE fourth grade teacher Kelly Ozawa. “One hour is not enough time.”
Ozawa, who serves on a state Senate Bill (SB) 191 planning committee, added how important PLC time will be this fall. The bill changes the way both principals and teachers are evaluated with the ultimate goal of continuously supporting educators’ professional growth and, in turn, accelerating student results, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). The new evaluation requirements “include opportunities for reflection, review, professional development and growth.”
“PLC time is critical to look at things like SB 191, that we look at our student data and that we have the time to look at class student data and what can we do to move these kids forward,” Ozawa said. “On the (proposed 2013-2014) school calendar, it was every week we were going to be given some hours to collaborate. I do know teachers supported that and felt it was valuable time for our children and to increase our achievement.”
According to ASD data presented at the February 19 Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) meeting, 90 percent of staff are in support of the proposed Wednesday 2013-2014 PLC times.
“PLCs are invaluable,” Ozawa continued. “It has to happen. When you look at the rubric teachers are having to use to show effectiveness as an educator, so much of it revolves around collaboration and making sure that we are meeting children’s needs, bringing in new resources and that, of course, takes time.”
One new resource AE is taking full advantage of is the Reteach concept West Ed recommended to the ASD to strengthen its curriculum.
“Reteach looks at students who do not get the concept the first time, at the assessments and the misconceptions that students have, and our teachers work together to reteach the concept so every kid has the opportunity,” McBee explained about the program taking place Tuesday through Friday. “Kids get to go to other classrooms to learn things in a different way. The students that got the concept right away get to have an enrichment opportunity. Some of the PLC time is to talk about individual kids and data.”
She said the PLC Reteach-based sessions are making the program a success because AE students are talking about it.
“The words that come out of the kids’ mouth are: ‘You know, it gives me another opportunity. If I don’t understand it from my teacher, maybe I’ll get it from someone else. It makes sure that I know my math,’”McBee recalled. “Hearing that from the kids, I know that they are happy and they are learning. If I know that, I feel that even if there are kinks, we can get through it and work together.”
Ozawa added, “We are trying to make sure that all teachers have the same opportunities so all students have the same opportunity for a fair and equitable education. We need to make sure that we are teaching to the whole child. We need to make people who can take on the world.”