Education Matters: Teacher training in Del Mar: In search of balance

By Marsha Sutton

As a final follow-up to the recent series on professional development in the Del Mar Union School District, DMUSD superintendent Holly McClurg explained why some teachers are out of their classrooms for training more than others.

All DMUSD teachers spend two to five days a year, for three years, in Cognitively Guided Instruction staff development, she said, to prepare for Common Core State Standards which are being introduced this fall.

In addition, some teachers across all grades, those in their third year of CGI training, are also Common Core lead curriculum teachers.

Shelley Petersen, DMUSD’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, said the lead curriculum teachers have several functions: understand the new standards, determine when certain standards should be taught during the three trimesters of the school year, identify available resources that support the standards, and create student assessments.

Petersen said these lead curriculum teachers, 21 for English/language arts and 21 for mathematics, represent an average of three per grade level (kindergarten through sixth).

She said one lead curriculum teacher, a sixth-grade teacher from Del Mar Hills School, is also involved in collaborative work with the San Dieguito Union High School District, writing curriculum to smooth the transition between sixth and seventh grades.

In addition, she said there are three other sixth-grade teachers (from three other Del Mar schools) also working with San Dieguito and other feeder elementary districts but who are not Common Core lead teachers.

“The purpose of this collaborative work is … to ensure students are well-prepared to transition from elementary to middle school,” Petersen said in an email.

Because the San Dieguito articulation team involves a few sixth-grade teachers, these teachers will have more absences from their classrooms.

Articulation from sixth to seventh grade needs to be seamless, McClurg said, “so you can see the necessity to have some cross-over.”

The articulation team, she said, was formed “specifically in response to the needs of our sixth-graders in mathematics. It’s something we’ve definitely heard from our community – our teachers and parents and principals – as a need.

“We obviously want to and need to be a part of that. We have been working very closely with San Dieguito on getting that to happen. So it will be very beneficial.”

But that means two days of CGI training, three days of lead teacher work, and then an additional three days this spring working with San Dieguito, for that teacher, McClurg said. Other teachers might be absent for CGI training and for San Dieguito articulation work, while still other teachers will only be absent for CGI training.

McClurg said the district tries to schedule some of this work in the summer – and after school, on weekends and in the evenings. But much depends upon teacher availability and voluntary participation since after-hours work cannot be compulsory, even when pay is offered.

The district’s lead curriculum teachers do meet after school on occasion, but because there are so many (21 in each group), finding a time when they can all meet is challenging, McClurg said.

Petersen said it’s important for the entire group to be together for the work, to ensure a smooth transition between grades.

“We had a previous experience when grade levels worked independently, and we had gaps and holes from one grade level to the next,” she said. “The articulation piece is critical, even more so now because Common Core is new.”

Correcting a point made earlier, Petersen said the district has no teachers who have finished their three-year CGI training yet and none are training other teachers.

The district’s Common Core lead teachers “may be asked in the future to assist with delivering professional learning to their colleagues, [but] this has not occurred during this school year,” she said.

Substitute teachers

One byproduct of all this teacher training and Common Core preparation is frustration from some parents over the resulting need for substitute teachers.

Responding to criticism that subs are simply baby-sitters, Amy Swindle said, “As both a DMUSD substitute and parent, I feel like I need to defend my job.”

She said parents seem unaware of the educational background and experience of most of the subs in the district.

The substitute teachers she’s worked with, she said, “are often more educated and experienced than the teacher we are replacing [and] not only have full teaching credentials but most of us also have Masters degrees.”

Swindle, a Torrey Hills parent who has subbed at all eight DMUSD schools, said she holds a Bachelors degree, Masters degree, teaching credential, math and business teaching credentials, and has 10 years of experience.

“We do not simply come in and let the class watch a movie for the day,” Swindle said in an email. “We follow the teacher’s detailed lesson plans and do the same lessons that they would be doing with their regular teacher.”

She said when she subs in Del Mar, the school’s principal usually stops by to observe her interacting with the class.

Swindle also questioned the view that learning is not optimal with substitute teachers.

“Del Mar is the top district in San Diego County and one of the top in the entire state, so where is the proof that substitutes are having any negative effect on learning?” she said. “Del Mar students are top-notch and are independent, smart workers who function well with substitutes.”

Takes time

Although parents and teachers have complained about excessive training that pulls teachers out of their classrooms, McClurg contended that it’s a minority who object.

“It’s important to consider all the pieces,” she said. “The other piece that speaks so loudly to me is when I hear from the teachers that say the training is invaluable.”

The chief complaint from teachers, she said, is that it takes time to learn the strategies and new material.

“That’s the part I absolutely hear and that we continue to look at as far as what are the best options for doing this,” McClurg said. “We’re providing our teachers with what they need, and obviously it’s for the children.”

If the session I saw with DMUSD’s professional development leader Dinah Brown is any indication, teachers seem enthused about the training and excited to learn new instructional methods.

“I feel so lucky that we get to do this,” said Del Mar Heights kindergarten teacher Alison Catilus, who is in her first year of CGI training.

The days of teachers in their classrooms, behind closed doors and left alone, are long gone. Collaboration, conferences and staff development are now the norm.

Providing teachers with access to professional development, as our educational system embarks in a fresh direction under the new Common Core State Standards, is a critical piece in the recognition, long overdue, that students are graduating from high school and college ill-prepared for the skills and critical thinking needed for today’s jobs and careers.

Although Del Mar’s leaders have no intention of lagging behind in providing their teachers with the tools to succeed, the search continues to find ways that balance the needs of competing interests.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at

Teacher training by the numbers

By Marsha Sutton

Cathy Birks, Del Mar Union School District’s assistant superintendent of business services, provided information on the cost of the district’s professional development for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.

The amount the district has spent on leaders for professional development training, according to Birks, is: $52,600 (2011-2012), $79,000 (2012-2013), and $19,500 (budgeted for this year).

The 2013-2014 number drops significantly because staff development leader Dinah Brown was hired full-time by the district this year, and her salary to provide teacher training is not included in that $19,500 number. Brown’s annual salary, as coordinator of curriculum and instruction, is $114,780, Birks said.

The cost of teacher training also includes the amount spent on substitute teachers. Birks provided these amounts for substitutes hired specifically to replace classroom teachers absent for professional development: $105,000 (2011-2012), $112,000 (2012-2013), and $128,000 (budgeted for this year).

The daily rate for subs increased in 2013-2014, from $90 to $100, which accounts for the higher 2013-2014 amount. Birks said certificated teachers are not paid a daily rate but average $420 per day, to compare.

In addition to subs required for professional development, teachers are also allowed 10 sick days per year and may miss school for “personal necessity days” or to attend committees or other district work obligations.

The amount spent on substitutes for these non-professional development days are: $218,000 (2011-2012), $200,721 (2012-2013), and $142,281 (budgeted for this year). Birks said the lower amount this year is due to the elimination of four upper-grade comp days and a reduced certificated staff.

The average number of days per year teachers are out for professional development is four, and the average number of days they are out for other reasons is seven.

The total number of certificated teachers engaged in professional development, according to Birks, is: 258 (2011-2012), 275 (2012-2013), and 248 (2013-2014).