Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting your teaching chops at a charter school

In case you've missed it, I've been writing about a small charter school operator, Navigator Schools, and its attempts to open two schools in Salinas.

My most recent story is here, and it addresses the charter controversy at a national level.

As you can probably imagine, it's often hard to include in a story all the information you request or come across as you research these issues. For instance, I had asked two Gilroy Prep teachers to give me their input on how's like to teach at a Navigator School. I didn't find a good place to include their views, so I'll post them here, edited.

Bri Gottlieb has been been teaching for three years, her last two at Gilroy Prep. This year, she trained new staff on classroom management styles and student culture. When I visited the school on Oct. 7, Gottlieb was teaching her students how to use cubes to measure length. She was using a very catchy song to teach units of measure, a method used frequently at the school. 

Other topics I asked her about: how does she keep up with the energy level (there's a lot of movement involved in the teaching at Navigator)? How much coaching they have? Here's more of her story, in her own words:

"We have many songs and chants so it is easier for the kids to remember steps and strategies. Some examples of math concepts we have songs and chants for are rounding, subtraction regrouping, word problems, money, fractions, time, multiplication, doubles facts, etc. The students get very into them and you can see them mouthing the songs to themselves during tests and independent practice.
"Some days are harder than others to keep up the energy because on Mondays the kids are sleepy so we ( the teachers) tend to do more of the talking. After working for this school for the second year, you get used to walking and using hand motions with instruction. I find I have more energy because I am used to moving around so much. I have joked around that I should wear a pedometer to see how many steps I walk around in a day. I find that the more I move around, the more the kids get excited and more engaged to learn.

"There is a lot of coaching involved. Every week a coach will observe the classroom (sometimes tape) and then meet with the teacher some time later in the week. During the coaching meetings, we go over strengths and two action steps to work on for the following week. I have found that I have become a better teacher from the feedback from my coaches. It is a very positive coaching model that helps improve my teaching skills all around. I am more conscious about constantly learning and more focused on certain actions that I want to improve on. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective on something I want to improve on as well. Before I came to this school, I didn't realize how collaborative a school could be. Most schools are very inclusive to the teachers and teachers work independently. It is very hard to grow as a teacher in that kind of environment. If I have a great idea that works for a better grade, I e-mail my fellow colleagues and they use the idea. It is a better environment to work in and to grow as a teacher. We are all working for the kids and to help them succeed in their education which is the way it should be." 

It's Karaoke time at Salinas high schools

Tomoki Kuwana, a Japanese language instructor at North Salinas High, is organizing a karaoke contest for all students in the Salinas Union High School District.

Would you include students from other school who take Japanese? I asked him.

That's a great idea, he said. So, if you are a Japanese language teacher at any other district in Monterey County, bring your students to the contest!

When: 4:00PM, Thursday, November 13.

Where: Theater at Everett Alvarez High, 1900 Independence Blvd., Salinas.

Cost: Free Admission

For more information, call: 831-796-7500

Monday, October 20, 2014

Of the Alisal and the need for public relations

At the most recent board meeting of the Alisal Union School District, there was an item that seemed like a no-brainer. A three-month, $18,000 contract with PRx Digital, a public relations company, to help them spin a better tale about the Alisal.

This is how administrators made their case: "The District badly needs professional assistance in fairly laying out the facts of the Alisal story -- both achievements and continuing challenges. Over the past five year, the District experienced an environment where facts were distorted by sensational media reporting and politicized, extremist public comment."

To put it mildly.

So this San Jose company -- with veteran journalist Marcos Cabrera on board -- would have tried in three months to convince Alisal trustees their job was needed. And given the amount of scrutiny this contract faced, you would have thought it was $18 million, not $18,000 they were considering to approve.

A couple of trustees -- including Noemi Armenta -- did not want the job to go to consultants because union members are generally opposed to consultants. But she and other board members wanted somebody to be hired part time. Or on an interim basis, to see what kind of results it would give them. So I was wondering, wouldn't the three-month contract with PRx have done the job? To demonstrate to trustees that it may actually be a good idea to hire a professional to help with public relations?

There's a reason why this item is of particular interest to yours truly. A communications professional at an organization makes the job so much easier. This person (when they're truly on top of things, because they not always are) helps you find the appropriate administrator to answer your questions, helps you coordinate photo shoots (so much in demand in this day and age of digital media) and in general can serve a very good public relations purpose. They probably will not help you find the dirt in your organization (something that journalist must and love doing), but dogged journalist would have plenty of time to do that when a public relations expert is on board ;)

Now I hear the Alisal is actually looking for a full time director of communications. And in the meantime, all we keep getting from KSBW is stories about former trustee Jose Castañeda. I wonder if a director of communications will be successful in steering broadcast news in other directions.

And speaking of public relations, veteran communications pro and media darling Marci McFadden has jumped from the Monterey County Office of Education ship and landed on the MPUSD one. Finally, somebody who will help me set up drama-free photo shootings!!!!! I can hardly wait, Marci!

And who will land on the MCOE boat? That will be very interesting indeed. 

Marcos, you should apply!