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

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Last week’s column discussed the Del Mar Union School District’s balancing act as it tries to provide professional development for its teachers without negatively impacting students and impeding learning in the classroom.

Tiffany Kinney and Gina Vargus, co-presidents of the Del Mar California Teachers Association, discussed the discomfort some teachers have with the training.

Kinney, a DMUSD classroom teacher since 2000, said teachers are unsettled “because we want to do such a good job. I know what works really well and now I’m having to use some of that but I’m having to add some of the other [techniques].”

“Veteran teachers haven’t felt like a first-year teacher in a long time,” said Vargus, who has been teaching in Del Mar since 1991. “You have to think on your feet, and you don’t know how long something’s going to take, and you don’t know where your kids are going to be at the end of your [lesson] plan, and maybe it’s not such a great plan and I’ll have to go back and rework that.”

Despite scattered criticism that pulling teachers from their classrooms for the training sessions is not in the best interests of students, Kinney and Vargus said the training definitely puts students first.

“It’s really preparing them,” Kinney said.

“What we’ve heard over the last several years is that kids are coming out of college not prepared to be workers and … they’re not independent thinkers,” Vargus said. “I think this gives kids ownership of that.”

Former Del Mar parent Melissa Myrhum vehemently disagreed. “Absolutely not,” she said, when asked if the focus on staff development in Del Mar is placing kids’ interests first. “The priority is not the students.”

Myrhum, who moved to the Del Mar district in 2011 with three children, two of whom were in fourth and fifth grades at the time, took aim at DMUSD superintendent Holly McClurg who in 2011 was assistant superintendent under then-superintendent Jim Peabody.

“She doesn’t have her client’s best interests at heart, and that’s the kids,” Myrhum said, of McClurg.

Myrhum said the schedule has meant lost time for students and adversely affects learning, and said substitute teachers are often just babysitters.

“You cannot continue to pull these teachers out and expect a great result,” she said. “It’s terrible for the learning environment.”

Myrhum took her complaints first to the principal, who she said told her nothing could be done. Then she spoke with McClurg, who she said justified it repeatedly, “to the point where I was so incredibly frustrated.”

After that she talked to Peabody, who she said told her, “It would be too hard to fight the unions to get all of this changed.”

She said she told him it was McClurg, not the teachers, who was mandating all the staff development. “But I guess it was easier for Peabody to blame the union,” she said.

“All this development, that was her baby,” Myrhum said of McClurg. “She wasn’t going to let go, no matter how much criticism she got.”

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