David Wiles, a 5th grader at Walker Upper-Elementary, explores one of the new STEM labs at Buford Middle School. The labs are part of a partnership with UVa, where faculty work with Charlottesville Schools staff.

Third in a series exploring local education budget initiatives

Both Charlottesville and Albemarle schools want to support their teachers. Their budgets for the next school year include pay raises, and both school boards want to keep class sizes small.

Another area where the two divisions agree is on the importance of professional development.

Charlottesville is planning to implement an instructional coaching model where expert teachers embed in the schools.

Albemarle has utilized this model for five years, and is hoping to restore its professional development budget, which has been slashed by 60 percent in recent years.

However, sustained investments in professional development could be curtailed in the competition for limited new revenues in the school budget. Both localities will hold public hearings on their respective budgets and tax rates in early April.

At present, Charlottesville’s total funding request is about $262,000 beyond what City Council has budgeted. Albemarle’s $5.8 million funding gap, which could be cut in half with approval of a significant tax increase, portends tough budget decisions.

“In order to improve our schools, our teaching and our learning, we have to improve our people,” said Gertrude Ivory, Charlottesville’s Associate Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction. “Professional Development is about improving the knowledge and skills of the educators who are actually working with the students.”

Charlottesville has proposed cutting 6.8 teacher coordinators to make way for ten instructional coaching positions at a net budget increase of $93,000. The move significantly changes professional development opportunities for teachers, in an effort to better teacher practice and student achievement.

The proposal places one instructional coach at each city school, and two coaches at Charlottesville High School. The coaches will help in all subject areas, but focus on math and literacy.

“It is all about building relationships and trust so that teachers can depend on this person,” said Rosa Atkins, Charlottesville’s Superintendent, about the coaching model. “I wanted teachers to feel that they could depend on the person to be in the building.”

Responsibilities of each coach will include co-teaching, demonstrating lessons, observing the classroom, giving feedback to the teacher, and helping teachers plan lessons.

“The direct support schools get will increase,” said Ivory.

The 6.8 subject-focused coordinator positions to be cut currently support all teachers in grades seven through twelve with curriculum development, attendance at state-wide meetings, textbooks reviews, and the verification that curriculum standards are met.

But the proposed changes have raised concerns among some teachers.

“We’re not even instituting [the coaching model] the way research has suggested it be instituted,” said Charlottesville High School teacher Margaret Thornton. “At CHS, we will see one coach to potentially 100 teachers.”

Research done at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning showed an improvement in student performance when one instructional coach worked with about 28 teachers, explained Thornton.

To kick off its budgeting process in October, the Albemarle School Board directed staff to focus on increased professional development opportunities.

As a result, Albemarle has proposed doubling their professional development budget from $422,126 to $831,863. These monies would be used to hire a professional development coordinator and to support professional development opportunities for staff throughout the division.

The increase is also an attempt to restore professional development funds to pre-recession levels, when resources topped $850,000.

“My title is Director of Educational Technology, Professional Development, and Media Services,” Albemarle’s Becky Fisher said. “At one time there was a full-time person for each of those [areas].”

Currently, Albemarle has a total of 24 instructional coaches with each coach supporting multiple schools.

Ultimately, Fisher said, the coaches help teachers help students.

“To meet the needs of the kids every day, you look at what the teacher needs access to,” Fisher said. “This is important. It all goes back to student learning. [Teachers] make student learning happen.”

While seminars can be beneficial, Lead Instructional Coach Isabel McLean said, the best place to work on classroom instruction is in the classroom.

“Five percent of a teacher’s practice will change if they go to a workshop,” McLean said. “The way to really change practice is job-embedded, teacher-directed and continuous. It’s like losing weight.”

And the practice helps both the teacher and the coach.

“[The coaches] were teachers, and then they are in the instructional coaching role for three to five years,” said Fisher. “Then they return to the classroom. This is really important.”

With the help of the instructional coaching model, Michelle Karpovich, a Western Albemarle High School chemistry teacher, completely flipped her model of classroom instruction.

“You will not see students being lectured at and taking notes,” said Fisher of Karpovich’s new approach. “It would not have happened so easily if she did not have a partner to step out on that ledge with her, think reflectively with her, and help do some of the legwork.”

In Charlottesville, staff is hopeful the new coaching model will work as well for all teachers as the Buford Design Academy has for the science teachers who participate.

“We’ve had professors or graduate students visiting the teachers at the school,” said Science Coordinator Libbey Kitten about the academy, in essence a pilot of the coaching model. “Engineering professors and whole classes of UVa students bring in the lessons and projects they’ve developed and present them for our students.”

The partnership also allows teachers to learn how to use new technologies, like 3-D printing.

“Last summer, our teachers and some of our students participated in a special academy at UVa’s engineering school to try out ideas and gain familiarity with the technology,” said Kitten.

“It has been an interesting collaboration,” said Kitten. ”This is all new territory. Every time I go to a training session, I learn more.”