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New tools aim to improve teaching and learning

Eric Cravey
Posted 5/24/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Since he took office in November, Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis has been an evangelist for improving teaching and learning and climate and culture within the …

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New tools aim to improve teaching and learning


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Since he took office in November, Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis has been an evangelist for improving teaching and learning and climate and culture within the Clay County School District.

In January, Davis outlined a 100-day transition plan, met with community leaders, teachers, administrators and has conducted climate and culture surveys within the district. Next week, Davis plans to unveil the culmination of the research he gathered in those meetings by releasing a 200-page analysis of the district that also paints a vision for the future. In the meantime, he and his staff have been working to provide teachers with new tools to boost student achievement.

“[The report] will comb through every facet of this district to tell us our accomplishments, to acknowledge our strengths and also acknowledge our areas of opportunity. I will openly release it to every community. I will give it to the board and say, ‘This is where we are and this is where we’re going and this is what it needs in order to be great,’ so, I’m excited about 200 pages,” Davis said.

At a school board agenda workshop on May 23 at the district office in Green Cove Springs, board members got a first look at some of the tools Davis will deploy in the 2017-18 school year to improve the district. In terms of climate and culture, Davis negotiated a special training program for school principals with the Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida. He said the training, which normally costs districts $90,000-$100,000, will cost Clay County $60,000 because of his negotiations.

The goal of the traning, he said, is to teach principals to move from a top down approach in their communications styles, provide them feedback on ways to improve and become better leaders who know how to nurture teachers to excellence.

“We have to build their capacity. Clay County’s done a great job working on leadership pedagogy, working on preparing them to be operational experts, but it’s more. We have to have leaders that are instructional leaders who are talent managers, who are climate and culture builders and who are operational experts as well,” Davis said.

Piggybacking on the idea of improving principals’ diplomacy, is a change in district policy that allows teachers who were given a satisfactory rating, but were not re-appointed to re-apply for jobs in the district. Previous state law prevented districts from re-hiring a teacher who was not re-appointed until they had been out of the district for a calendar year. Now, when approved by the board, teachers will go into a pool for re-hire at a different district school.

“I will say I support this 100 percent because you may have a teacher and a leader who have a conflict and that conflict could be for so many different reasons, but they are a satisfactory teacher, they just don’t merge with leadership, then this gives them an opportunity to go to another school,” Davis said.

Davis said the timing for launching the principal training was perfect. He is in the process of meeting with principals will not be re-appointed and others who will be promoted or moved to other schools within the district.

“Everything is tied to talent management and sometimes teachers leave because of the interaction between administrators indirectly in their settings, so we want to break that stigma. We want to be able to really build relationships where we have a system of value and a system of care and a system of support,” Davis said.

“We’ve got to have high expectations coupled with high support and these new initiatives will be all around retaining, all around recruiting and all around supporting our teachers in our classrooms, so they not only feel valued, but they feel that they have stake and say in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it within the organization and within the schools,” he continued.

Other changes will come in the form of new curricula, many of which will be computer-based learning systems. He said the computer-based programs will blend with traditional teaching methods to enhance overall learning environments.

“We’re looking at every curriculum from every grade level and we found that there were holes and we didn’t have a lot of supplemental materials for our teachers, for our tier 2 and tier 3 approach to work with kids in a small group or work with kids individually for differentiated instruction and the new curriculum through Achieve 3000, iReady and Eureka will allow us to gain access to our students and help them be successful academically,” Davis said.

Board member Mary Bolla, a former elementary school teacher, said she felt good about approving the new computer-based learning programs as she has seen them in action at McRae Elementary.

She said she asked students why they were doing what they were doing and how was the program helping them. She said she was encouraged by the answers students gave.

“Don’t assume that we’re turning over everything to computerization. It is definitely not that way,” Bolla said.

Davis agrees that students need a balanced approach to learning. Some of the tools even offer an intuitive aspect that increases the rigor of the computer learning based on how successful each student moves through a module, a phenomenon known as scaffolding.

“Every grade level has standards they have to meet and every blended platform we bring in will give a diagnostic per learner and what that means is that we give a diagnostic and if a kid’s not on grade level, they will give them materials and meet them where they are,” Davis said.

“So if they’re not on a third grade level, they’re on a first grade level, then what the programs – the iReady and Achieve 3000 – will do is, it will give them materials for their current grade level and continuously increase the complexity to get them to the part where they are exposed to [proper] grade level curriculum, grade level questions and grade level standards in a staircase approach. It’s a staircase approach to get them to be grade level and beyond proficient.”

Also at the meeting, board members reviewed a list of missing items, which raised concerns among district staff. The district reports that there are $127,456 worth of equipment either misplaced or stolen from schools in the district this school year alone.

Michael Kemp, assistant superintendent of operations, said part of the plan is to add more surveillance cameras at more schools, which should curb the problem.

The school board meets in regular session on June 1. Most of the items discussed May 23 will be placed on the board’s consent agenda – which serves as somewhat of a rubber stamp – on June 1.


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