Geneva City School District,
NOTE: If you have not already read the "Design and Implementation" section, selecting that from the menu before reading further will provide a context for the replication details below.
Investment in top-quality personnel, combined with training in research-based effective strategies and high expectations for implementation of techniques learned in professional development, is the formula the district uses to effect improvement in student performance.
Professional development goals and outcomes focus on increasing teachers' expertise. In New York state, where the commissioner of education has promised to raise the standards for all students, to increase the capacity of each district to help students reach higher standards, and to relentlessly report the progress to the public, there is support and pressure for change. The professional development that is made available to the school community must match the focus and demonstrate that it produces results, or it is not offered. All teachers have participated in awareness sessions in which the standards, assessments, and new requirements have been discussed and analyzed to determine what students will need to be able to do. Beyond that, many staff members have continued learning about the standards, have made changes in curriculum and instruction to align with these higher learning goals, and have begun to use what they have learned in workshops to help students prepare for the new, more rigorous assessments. They are realizing that there needs to be a coherent K-12 effort to assess and monitor student progress and that this will require teachers to have deeper content knowledge. Regional efforts to increase teacher expertise and instructional effectiveness have broadened the base for ideas and knowledge.
Teachers and building and district-level administrators are involved in the selection and design of professional development activities. For example, when "Reading Recovery" was selected as the program to ensure that all students can read, the process involved initial screening by the assistant superintendent which was followed by teachers' reviewing several other research-based and validated successful programs.
Specifically, "Reading Recovery" was chosen over "Success for All" (another validated program) for several reasons. It matched the sense of autonomy and efficacy that teachers had, it fit the community, and there was powerful data to show that it worked. When the district hired a full time "Reading Recovery" teacher trainer, it became a recognized regional training center for that program. This allows us to train not only Geneva teachers but other teachers in the region. What makes Geneva exceptional is that this training is extended to teacher aides, college students who volunteer to work with nonreaders, and teaching assistants who work in the district, as well as regular classroom teachers, in this way, all involved can work together in a focused, aligned, and congruent way. Teachers also selected a software program compatible with our philosophy of the development of literacy. The "Foundations in Reading" program is an individualized, continuous progress software package which is coordinated with all of what we do with children in the development of literacy. It enables teachers to monitor individuals, provides opportunity for additional practice, and enhances teachers' efforts.
Structures and resources are in place to support continued professional development. Building committees of parents, teachers, and other staff consider requests for conferences and workshops against criteria they have developed. There is district support for ongoing commitments to organizations and opportunities to present at conferences. From regional course offerings that the district pays for, teachers select staff development opportunities in areas in which they are concerned about student learning. There are competitive grants available within the district from district funds. There are also grants from private corporations that fund special projects.
The school community is aware of and understands the importance of staff development through regular communication. That includes a radio program showcasing district happenings, quarterly mailings to all residents of the community, and monthly newsletters from all buildings to the parents and guardians of the children attending. When the state department of education pushed for higher standards for all students, a community forum with all stakeholder groups represented met to establish exit outcomes for Geneva City Schools. Drafts of the document were mailed to constituents, meetings and discussions were held, revisions were made, and finally the outcomes were adopted by the Geneva City Schools Board of Education. Presentations at building PTSO meetings often showcase various programs that are being used in the district. The community knows that professional development is needed for teachers to help all students meet higher standards and valued outcomes.
The Geneva Middle School is evolving into an exemplary school. In September of 1995, a nationally-known consultant for middle-level education was hired by the school district to help resolve issues surfacing in the middle school. A needs assessment was administered to teachers and community members. Meetings were held with groups and individuals to determine the most serious issues. The major areas of concern were identified and agreed upon by teachers, parents, and community members. The inflexibility of the master schedule and lack of academic rigor were considered the major issues that needed immediate attention.
Over the last two years, those issues have been resolved. A new schedule has been developed. Teachers have been empowered to have control of instructional time and placement of children. Class sizes have been decreased in grades seven and eight to 16-17 per class. Curriculum has been aligned with new state standards, which are much more academically rigorous. Student participation in the accelerated math program has doubled. Sixth-grade reading scores have increased five percent. Enrichment classes have been made available to eighth grade students. Eighty-five percent of the core teachers are participating in "Frameworks" (a semester course focusing on language and literacy). Teachers meet daily with their team members to discuss instruction, students, and their progress. Interdisciplinary units that include authentic assessment and immersion experiences have been designed and developed to raise achievement. Building administration is monitoring the assessments and their results.
Site Visit Documentation
Geneva City School District's success was recorded based on a site visit conducted by the National Awards Program for Model Professional Development in 1997.
Costs and Funding
Experts have stated that raising achievement standards for all students will require an increase in the amount of learning time available to those students who need it. After examining our student population, their achievement, and the resources available, a decision was made to provide more learning time. In the summer of 1995, we decided to create a permanent line item in the budget for summer school at all levels. It is structured for students who have failed a course or whose achievement scores have been less than satisfactory. The elementary summer school runs five weeks. There is an emphasis on reading, writing, and math. Teachers were selected and employed based on their ability to use the strategies learned in professional development opportunities particularly "Learning Styles," "Math Their Way," and the writing process.
Approximately 2 percent of the district budget is used for staff development. The district has employed full- and part-time staff developers to work cooperatively with each other and with teachers, providing support and coordinating efforts.
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