Magazine article The Learning Professional

Valley Cultivates Comprehensive Process

Magazine article The Learning Professional

Valley Cultivates Comprehensive Process

Article excerpt

Elementary school in California's Pajaro Valley makes sure that teachers bloom

Barbara Huebner, a math coach at Starlight Professional Development School (Watsonville, Calif.), knows that the best math teachers have a deep understanding of mathematical principles. "Yet many elementary teachers come from a humanities or social studies background and don't have strong experiences as students of mathematics," says Huebner.

So Huebner spent lots of time last year working with Starlight teachers on math concepts and the way concepts are related to each other. She helped them understand, for example, how number patterns - a concept taught as early as kindergarten - are linked to algebra.

Huebner says a comment from a second-year teacher convinced her the effort had paid off. "She told me that because she really understood what she was teaching and why it mattered, she was able to maximize the teachable moments," says Huebner. "She knew exactly where the students were in terms of understanding the material and where to take them next."

In a comprehensive approach to professional learning, the teachers also spent the school year studying new research on teaching math. They mapped out Starlight's math curriculum to make sure it aligned with district and state standards, and they constructed lessons that focused on the concepts and skills students need to master in order to meet the standards. What's more, staff development was delivered in a variety of ways and designed to meet the needs of teachers at varying stages of their careers.

The effort the math teachers made is typical of the kind of work that routinely goes into Starlight's award-winning staff development program, a program that continues to change and improve teacher practice at the school in many ways. School staff say the effort is critical - the key to boosting the achievement of their students, most of whom are at risk of academic failure.

SCHOOL'S VEHICLE

Starlight, with an enrollment of about 700 students in grades K-5, is 90 miles south of San Francisco, in the agricultural Pajaro Valley. The school serves a student population that is predominantly low-income and Hispanic. English is the second language for about 85% of the school's students. Most students take bilingual classes.

The school's mission is twofold: to close the achievement gap that exists between its low-income, Spanish-speaking, and largely migrant student population and their more affluent, non-minority peers, and to prepare students for advanced academic and leadership opportunities. Of equal importance: to accomplish those goals in an environment responsive to cultural differences.

The staff decided the primary vehicle for getting there would be staff development.

Ten years ago, to formalize staff members' commitment to their own ongoing learning, Starlight became a professional development school. Partnerships were set up among the school and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and its Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence. The partnerships aim to provide Starlight and other district staff with a continuum of comprehensive staff development opportunities that address everything from minority recruitment and teacher preparation to the continuing education of veteran teachers. Until this year, grants from the university, county, and school district covered the cost of Starlight's full-time professional development coordinator.

As a result of Starlight's close ties with the university, the school has become a training ground for many student teachers, a good number of whom ultimately join the staff. Those who move on to other schools take with them the knowledge of how quality staff development can improve classroom teaching. Starlight teachers also take on leadership roles on district-level curriculum committees, teach college courses, and present at national conferences. …

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