The new school year is in full swing, and teachers are working hard to accommodate new statewide standards. Within the past two years, however, budget cuts have stifled state-funded professional development, making it more difficult for educators to stay ahead.
Jami Graham, director of Professional Development, said teachers of Richmond County Schools are among those affected by the cuts.
“Because of this hardship and the lead up to this hardship, I think folks need to realize that this is the biggest time of change in education,” Graham said. “With change, teachers need a lot of support and a lot of efforts have to be made to keep them abreast of what those changes are and how to impact student learning … We have had to do an immense amount of professional development, specifically over the last three years, to prepare for these new standards.”
She added that without state funds, this has been a difficult task, but that the district is doing everything possible to ensure teachers receive all the help they need.
“We use a lot of teacher leaders,” Graham said, in addition to using specific facilitator sessions. In the sessions, schools can be accessed via an online program that provides them with professional development and utilizes facilitators who are already on site. “We also have academic coaches who support academic development. That helps us to get information out.”
However, Graham said the district has difficulty sending educators outside the district to train due to a lack of funding.
“We have to use Title 2 and Title 1 funding,” she said. “Fortunately for our district, we do have some federal funding that comes in, but I think there will be a bigger impact on some of the districts that don’t have that.”
A new three-year grant called Race to the Top has also been helpful with training teachers.
“With Race to the Top, we were able to put our money in people and professional development, so we’ve supplemented in that way,” Graham said. “We’ve really tried to improvise.”
Despite the cuts, teachers in Richmond County have been provided with plenty of support, Graham said, but the implementation of teacher leaders and on site facilitators has caused their work load to grow substantially.
“What we’ve done is added a layer to their responsibilities if we ask them to lead professional development or support other teachers,” said Graham. “We just try to be an advocate for them and give them as much support as we can through the limited resources.”
“Even though we’re lacking funds, I don’t think it means our teachers are going without staff development,” said Bess Schuler, a Beginning Teacher Coordinator with Richmond County Schools. “We use the resources and personnel we have. We have a lot of expertise in the district, so we use our folks in the district to give experience to new folks coming in.”
At the start of the school year, Schuler said more than 90 new teachers were hired — and 64 of those were going into their first year.
“We have a great group of new teachers,” Schuler said. “We’re really excited about all they bring to the district.”
Schuler said it was crucial for new teachers to know that, although they have more resources than ever before, it has also become a tougher job.
“We have high expectations,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to help our students achieve in every way possible. They have more accountability than ever. I do think we still do a great job as a district offering professional development, and (teachers) need that. The needs of our students are greater than ever before, so we just have to make sure in the district that we equip them with as much as possible.”
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.