Teacher training vs. time in the classroom: How Del Mar walks the tightrope

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Part One of a three-part series:

Three years ago, under then assistant superintendent Holly McClurg, the Del Mar Union School District adopted an intense regimen of professional development, mostly focused on a training program called Cognitively Guided Instruction.

Shortly thereafter, the criticism started, as parents and teachers began to register objections.

After McClurg was named DMUSD superintendent in mid-2012, professional development for teachers continued and some say became even more demanding. Criticism mounted.

Parents became more frustrated about their children spending too many days with substitute teachers. Some teachers were also unhappy about having to miss school and bemoaned the lost time with their students in the classroom.

Professional development is clearly a major focus for McClurg, and she offers no apologies, saying nothing is more important in education than providing ongoing training to teachers so they can deliver the best possible instruction to their students.

She also said that claims about the number of days teachers are absent from their classrooms for staff development – some have said 20 to 30 days – is wildly exaggerated.

Cognitively Guided Instruction is a teacher training program that integrates into instructional practices the latest research-based studies of how children think. It involves listening to children and understanding how they approach problem-solving, and incorporating those ideas into instruction. CGI acknowledges that there is no single right way to solve problems and allows for multiple methods to achieve positive results.

Then along came Common Core, which upends many of the approaches to teaching and learning that have been standard in classrooms across America. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted in California and begin this coming fall.

CGI training, most agree, is aligned well with Common Core principles, and Del Mar is now providing professional development for both. Many local educators consider Del Mar well ahead of the curve for CCSS preparation because of the district’s early focus on CGI training.

To help school districts prepare for the dramatic shift this fall, the state has allocated about $200 per pupil to districts to be used to implement CCSS.

In a recent conversation with McClurg and Solana Beach School District superintendent Nancy Lynch, we discussed how each district allocates its CCSS funding.

Of the $876,800 received from the state, the DMUSD is spending $662,000, or about 75.5 percent, on teacher training, while Lynch said her district is spending about 45 percent on teacher training ($269,000 out of $597,800). CCSS money can also be spent on instructional materials and technology.

Shelley Petersen, DMUSD’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, said teachers are out two to five days per year for professional development.

However, when teachers are also missing from the classroom because they are sick, their kids are sick, or they have other district obligations such as ChromeBooks training or committee meetings, teachers can be absent many more days during the school year, said Del Mar California Teachers Association co-president Gina Vargus.

Because professional development hasn’t been in the forefront until recently, the perception to parents is that it can look like all the absences are due to training, she said.

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