Carroll Independent School District
"One of the best things we did," says Alice Miller, former director of staff and program development, in Carroll Independent School District, Southlake, Texas, "was develop a staff development advisory committee made up of two representatives from each campus. That's a strategy I would recommend to any district. It has become a favorite committee to be on. They felt like they actually accomplished a lot. We designed all the staff development and we became a study group for staff development. I would give them lots of articles to educate them on what staff development was all about. I would highly recommend this strategy."
This was only one of the many strategies in place that designated the Carroll Independent School District's professional development program as exemplary. In this district of almost 6,000 students north of Dallas, Texas, learning has become a part of what every employee does and is an expectation of all employees. In fact, new employees sign statements that indicate their commitments to continued growth and development.
The organizing force behind Carroll's professional development program is the STAR Model. This model provides the umbrella within which decisions are made. Each of the five points on the star represent one of the groups that comprise the learning community including novice teachers, veteran teachers, administrators, university faculty, and other partners throughout the community and specifies what each will contribute to the community. The lines that connect the points represent the communication network that occurs.
The content of the STAR Model is discourse about teaching and learning to improve student learning and on integrating technology into the classroom. The processes used are workshops with classroom applications, mentoring and coaching, study groups, demonstration teaching, discussion, and reflection. The model reinforces that collaboration is essential among all the members of the learning community.
Mentoring of new teachers is another strong feature of the model. According to Miller, Carroll's mentoring program grew over several years and far exceeded the Texas mandate for mentoring. The mentoring program became an exemplary model within the state, because it provided a seamless transition for preservice teachers into their initial years of teaching, while providing professional development for experienced teachers as well. The professional development school program established in conjunction with the University of North Texas expanded and incorporated more teachers each year. A steering committee of mentor teachers, new teachers, university faculty, student teachers, parents, and administrators coordinates the program's operation.
One particularly strong feature of Carroll's professional development program is the use of data. Data about student achievement are analyzed to establish school improvement goals. Teams of teachers from each school come together annually to examine state test results and other data. These teacher leaders return to their schools and train other teachers in analyzing data. According to Miller, "Schools use the data to help them decide where they need to focus." These areas then became a part of the schools' improvement plans.
The integration of technology into the classroom is another focal area for Carroll's professional development program. The district designed technology competencies that each teacher is required to demonstrate during the first year of employment. The district provides training and support to assist teachers in acquiring skills. Teachers are able to demonstrate competency of the skills or receive "just-in-time" support from school-based technology coordinators.
Carroll ISD's professional development program uses ongoing evaluation to sharpen its focus. A variety of evaluation methods are used to improve training sessions and monitor the status of curriculum and instruction throughout the district, such as:
Data are gathered through surveys, quarterly grant reports, group reflections, and e-mail communications.
Individual professional development plans link professional development and student outcomes. Each employee sets three goals: one professional, one cognitive, and one student achievement. Supervisors approve individual plans and ensure they are aligned with the district and school goals. Teachers collect evidence such as lesson plans, student work, and teacher work to demonstrate accomplishment of the goals. Approximately half of the teachers and almost all administrators participate in an alternative method of evaluation using cognitive coaching. Those who choose this alternative participate in extensive training and work with a partner.
Recent professional development projects have resulted in strong evidence that links professional development and student achievement. In one year, as a result of training and implementation of new teaching strategies, passing rates on the Algebra End-of-Course exam increased from 61% to 81%. Reading scores increased in one year, as the result of implementation of Reading Recovery. Writing scores in fourth, eighth, and tenth grade writing scores increased, as a result of training and the implementation of the New Jersey Writing Project. Specifically, focused professional development targeting areas of need helped improve student performance in Carroll ISD.