Olathe School District
"We have changed over time," says Alison Banikowski, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Olathe District Schools in Olathe, Kansas. "Our plans were yearly based--we set a goal for one year. Now, we're much more into long term cycles, five-year cycles. That has helped us. We establish staff development that aligns with the building improvement plan. At the central level, we look at the needs and provide staff development from there. There is a lot of overlap between what happens at the district and what happens at the school level."
The Olathe District professional development system is exemplary for a number of reasons. First is the tight alignment between district and school improvement goals and professional development. Second is the wide variety of learning structures available to teachers to support their learning. Third is the assessment system that provides continuous data about progress. And last are the processes used to develop and monitor improvement.
The district strategic plan identifies the goals for the entire school district. Building improvement plans, designed by teams of teachers, parents, and administrators at each school, mirror the district plan and specify what each building will do to contribute to the district goals and to achieve its own goals based on student achievement needs. Individual staff members have their own professional development plans that identify what they will learn to support the building and district goals. These professional development plans are used both as a part of the personnel evaluation system and as a guide for the individual growth of each teacher. Everyone is working toward improving student success in Olathe. The district's beliefs about and outcomes for staff development underscore the importance of continuous improvement.
Teachers have a number of opportunities for learning in Olathe:
In addition, teachers receive graduate credit and points for recertification and advancement on the district salary schedule for participating in staff development.
Instructional Resource Teachers (IRT) and curriculum coordinators provide staff development and onsite support to teachers. The district has invested in the training and development of the IRTs, who are master teachers. They are released from their classrooms to mentor new teachers, provide demonstration lessons, and offer coaching and feedback to teachers, as they apply new learning in their classrooms. Banikowski says the board of education has made it a high priority to fund these positions and to extend their contracts so they work a longer school year than other teachers do. Overall, the district's budget for staff development has increased substantially in the last few years and continues to increase to support these extensive opportunities for staff development throughout the district. The district has also benefited from a number of grants to support professional development especially in technology.
Continuous monitoring, evidence of implementation, and evidence of results help to keep individual teachers, schools, and the district informed about progress toward the goals. Teachers complete self-analyses about their acquisition of knowledge and skills. Student data is gathered and disaggregated frequently to assess growth. Surveys are completed at the end of staff development experiences to assess the reactions of participants. Building improvement plans and staff development plans are evaluated annually by teams of internal and external reviewers. The district conducts comprehensive evaluations of large-scale professional development initiatives.
The state accreditation process in Kansas supports the structure and processes used to improve student learning in the Olathe district. Building leadership teams of approximately eight to 14 people representing the staff and administration are elected for three-year terms at each school. Their role is to analyze student data and set the course for improvement and professional development. Olathe invested in building capacity by providing training to the entire team rather than just to principals. According to Banikowski, it takes more than one messenger to get the faculty into the boat and rowing. Leadership team members receive training in systems thinking, the change process, group process, and effective professional development. These teams know how to analyze student achievement data, develop school profiles, conduct research on best practices, and lead staff members in the design of professional development.
In addition to training with leadership team members, district leadership involves the teacher association as partners in the design of the district's staff development program. "It was key for us," says Banikowski. "We make sure all the players are at the table when we start something. We could not do what we are doing in staff development without our partnership with the teacher association and the board of education."
Professional development is an integral part of the culture in Olathe Schools. It is "our way of doing business when others aren't watching," according to their application for the Model Professional Development Award. Professional development is worth fighting for, because in Olathe District Schools, there is substantial evidence that professional development has indeed led to improved student achievement.