The 50 or so new teachers who are joining the Santa Monica-Malibu school district this year have a lot to digest.
There are a variety of new programs rolling out as officials attempt to close longstanding academic achievement gaps, a major focus following the release of a critical report by education reformist Pedro Noguera.
New strategies for pedagogy. Altered classroom layouts. Different models for discipline. And the list goes on.
Ahead of the annual SMMUSD convocation Aug. 17, where Noguera will deliver a keynote speech about overcoming challenges to improve equity, new employees are being brought up to speed on the work Noguera’s consultancy did last year.
“We didn’t want them going to convocation not having some kind of context on what they’re going to be hearing,” said Terry Deloria, the district’s assistant superintendent for educational services. “We [held workshops Thursday] that will allow them to get to know the report and where we’re going in terms of district priorities.”
Convocation marks the beginning of the school year for district staff, but it also serves as the culmination of months of planning for the 2016-17 school year. Classes begin Aug. 22.
Deloria said the district has been training teachers in the new pilot preschool and transitional kindergarten programs, known as Seaside and Bridges, respectively. The instructors took advantage of a visit to Caltech, whose children’s center focuses on the development of early skills in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Meanwhile, upper management personnel recently went through two days of leadership workshops. Training for elementary-level math teachers is scheduled for this coming week.
Starting on Aug. 11, Ellen Edeburn, the district’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction, and other employees began working with Pedro Noguera’s son, Joaquin, to develop a culturally responsive education plan. Officials in recent months have noted a need for improvements in connecting with students from a wide variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The district was still looking to fill a few teacher vacancies as of Aug. 10, according to interim deputy superintendent Mark Kelly. Noguera identified a “revolving door of leadership” as an obstacle to improving equity in the district.
A dozen teachers are leading a pilot program to incorporate more blended learning, which highlights digital and online media and puts more decision-making power in the hands of students.
“In the future, we need to be thinking about how we can help our teachers use technology in the classroom in a way that engages students and allows them choice,” Deloria said.
Sarah Braff, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, said district executives must do a better job of listening to site leaders. She said SMMUSD officials should look at successful school models and apply those strategies and techniques elsewhere.
“We aren’t lying when we share things,” she said. “In the past, management has questioned us as trying to cause trouble. … I truly believe it’s time for our administrators to give the reins of learning to teachers and for teachers to give the reins of learning to students.”