TURNING EMPLOYEES INTO ADVOCATES FOR THE NEW CALIFORNIA STANDARDS
Tulare County Office of Education
School employees wear many different hats: Teachers, administrators and support staff may also be parents, neighbors and friends. And they all may be called upon to explain California’s new standards and assessments.
In fact, the most important ambassadors for our schools are those who work most closely with students and their families – teachers, principals and classified staff. That is why the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) brought its entire staff together to create a network of partners to serve as champions of the need for higher expectations and new assessments.
It was Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak’s idea to develop and invite all staff to attend a 90-minute informational session titled, “Rising to the Challenge: A TCOE Common Core State Standards Overview.” Vidak told staff that the professional development session would help them learn how TCOE “is supporting schools throughout the region to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.”
TCOE Deputy Superintendent Dr. Guadalupe Solis said, “Our direction from Superintendent Vidak was to educate our folks to become advocates and give direction to others who had questions about the California Standards and testing.
“Many of our staff are also parents,” Solis said. “After the training, they said, ‘Now I understand what our school is talking about doing with our children.’ They also said they were able to make sense of some of the misinformation they had heard out in the community.”
Over a period of six weeks beginning in April 2015, the county’s Educational Resource Services department offered 69 presentation sessions for employees to choose from at various locations. Managers were strongly encouraged by Vidak to give staff time off during the workday to attend.
Providing so many opportunities to attend was important in a county that serves more than 100,000 students in 43 school districts. The results were impressive: more than 730 employees participated, according to Charlene Stringham, TCOE Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
“Employees appreciated that the gaps in their knowledge were filled in. They felt valued that the superintendent made this opportunity available to them, and they felt connected. Now, employees better understand the connection of the standards in their daily roles, and how the standards play out in the classrooms.”
The sessions began with time for participants to share what they already knew about the standards, as well as what they hoped to learn. The professional development was designed to dispel the many rumors that were circulating, providing information, for example, on how the standards were developed by the states, not mandated by the federal government. They explained how local districts actually have more control now over their curriculum and how it is taught, and why the new standards are an improvement over previous standards.
Presenters also demonstrated TCOE’s web resource, Common Core Connect, which features more than 1,000 multi-media tools that have been vetted by staff and identified as excellent resources that are aligned with California Standards.
The planning of the professional development sessions involved a team of 24 educational consultants, who met last spring to brainstorm key points to cover. While a smaller group then developed the presentation, the entire team worked to deliver the sessions.
“We are proud of the fact that the first professional development session was presented within four weeks of the idea being posed to us by Superintendent Vidak,” Stringham said.
She is also proud of how green the effort was. “The only handout we gave was a small postcard with a URL to a Dropbox with more information, so it was all digital. We wanted to be earth friendly.”
Providing information about resources that could be accessed later when questions arose was key, Stringham said, along with making sure to continue the conversation beyond the professional development. “We still answer questions posed by staff,” she said.
While the debate over the California Standards continues, the public is turning to the educators on the front lines for accurate information. By equipping all staff members to serve as advocates, Tulare County Office of Education has ensured that everyone is on the same page, working together to prepare students for a successful future.
For more information:
• This TCOE website features more than 1,000 Common Core aligned resources that have been vetted by staff.
• View a video of the presentation, “Rising to the Challenge: A TCOE Common Core State Standards Overview” here.
• Common Core-related websites that have been designated as “Super Sites” by TCOE due to the value of their information.
• The California Department of Education’s “California Spotlight” features the Common Core-related websites of three county offices of education: Tulare, Stanislaus and Contra Costa.