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Grissom column – Hard to find time and money for training

There are few organizations that do not face the challenge of constantly training and retraining their employees. The Rowan-Salisbury School System is no different. There is a continual need to assure that all staff is provided up-to-date information and strategies to do the best job possible regardless of their role. The challenges that the school system now face in providing quality professional development are the lack of funding and the lack of time for training.
During the 2005-2006 school year, the General Assembly altered the school calendar and mandated dates for beginning and ending the school year. At the same time, five workdays or staff development days for teachers were eliminated from the school calendar, reducing the total number of teacher workdays from 20 to 15 or 14, depending on what day of the week Christmas happens to be on the calendar.
Presently there are only two to three days each year that can be used for system wide professional training and seven days that can be used for school level training. The remaining five workdays cannot be used for any training unless teachers initiate and request a workshop.
As a system, we are left with very few options in finding the “right” time to schedule workshops. It is difficult to inspire enthusiasm to learn something new at the end of a long day in the classroom. Because of numerous family obligations, evening schedules are already overwhelming for most people. Offering training during the day removes teachers and others from the classroom and/or school, where they are needed the most. The students deserve to have a qualified teacher in their classroom everyday.
This year for the first time in many years, the calendar includes four early-release days. On these four days in the school year, students are dismissed two and one half hours earlier than a normal day so teachers can have uninterrupted time to participate in activities that will strengthen their teaching skills and benefit the students.
We just completed our first early-release day, and every school submitted a plan for their activities for the afternoon. Sessions ranged from work on teacher evaluation standards to strategies for integrating technology into the classroom.
Many of the schools across the district are using professional learning communities (PLCs) for delivery of professional development during their planning time, during lunch or after school. According to the Department of Public Instruction, the term “professional learning community” is defined as a collegial group who are united in their commitment to student learning.
Teachers and/or administrators work together in small groups to learn new strategies and ideas, discuss and assess students’ work and progress, and share their knowledge with each other.
Shirley Hord of the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory says that as an organizational arrangement, the professional learning community is seen as a powerful staff-development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement.
Curriculum coaches, principals, assistant principals, and teachers are using the professional learning community as a natural time for staff development.
Funding for professional development is another challenge. This year state funds that have normally supported system and school workshops were eliminated from the budget. It is anticipated that there will be no funds available next year either. This included funds for presenters, materials, substitutes (if needed) and attendance at work-related conferences.
Because our system is in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) district improvement, some of the federal Title I monies must be used for professional development. Having access to the federal funding has been our only means for compensating anyone for working with our staff members.
Our system has completed the first step for meeting standards to exit NCLB district improvement. If the system continues to meet the standards this year, the Rowan-Salisbury School System will no longer be in district improvement. Exiting from district improvement would be a great accomplishment for our school system but would also mean less funds would be available for staff development.
Regardless of the challenges, the school system continues to be committed to maintaining highly qualified staff and providing opportunities for everyone to increase their professional skills. We want our students to be exposed to the very best teachers and administrators so they will be challenged everyday in the classroom.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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