Olentangy Valley News

In-house training works for teachers, coffers

Olentangy staff gets ready for new federal standards via less-expensive, more-effective development

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Olentangy's in-house approach to professional development is to coach teachers to adopt new state standards as well as new technologies, district officials say.

At the Oct. 9 meeting of the school board, Jack Fette, the district's director of achievement and accountability, said the district's internal professional development program is producing better teachers at a reduced cost.

"Our plan for the next two years is to focus on employing effective instructional practices that will ensure a good transition to the Common Core and Ohio's new learning standards," Fette said.

The district currently is phasing in curricular tweaks to match the new Common Core standards, a more-rigorous set of benchmarks devised by national legislators to standardize most core content across state lines.

One major tweak to the district's professional development system came last year when the district ended late-start days for students. Previously, teachers used the first half of six late-start days spread throughout the year for professional development.

Now, the district schedules three dedicated professional development days instead.

Fette said the switch frees up time for schools to cross-collaborate and share resources.

That includes Olentangy teachers and administrators who lead most of the district's professional development classes for their colleagues.

Over the summer, more than 500 teachers took part in training through the Olentangy Professional Development Academy, which offered more than 80 unique courses.

About 400 of the district's elementary school teachers participated in the Math in Focus training program during the summer, which focused on the new national standards for the subject.

Starting this year, the district has 34 professional development courses lined up, covering a wide range of topics.

All the programs coach teachers to align their instruction to the Common Core standards, Fette said.

"When 2014 comes and the new assessments come online, we'll make sure our classes are functioning at the highest possible level.

"It's not just about what we teach but how we teach."

Fette said training opportunities also are introducing teachers to new technologies such as electronic SmartBoards, video lectures and online classroom portals.

Shifting to a professional development program that focuses on in-house training has led to big savings for the district over the past decade.

During the 2002-03 school year, the district budgeted around $208,000 for professional development -- about $391 for each of the district's 531 teachers.

Last year, the district budgeted just $252,000 for 1,117 teachers -- about $225 per teacher in a pool more than twice as large.

School board members said the internal program is not just cheaper, it's actually a more-effective tool because it directly targets Olentangy's academic goals.

"Sometimes when people go to see an outside speaker, they come back and it's hard for them to put that information to use in an Olentangy classroom," said board member Julie Wagner Feasel.

"These classes are tailored to the culture of an Olentangy class, so our teachers' learning is going to have a direct positive impact in their classrooms."

Surveys show teachers themselves overwhelmingly prefer the in-house training, Fette said.

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