Compiled by Dina Martin and Frank Wells
Colleen Whitlock, Liz Miller
Does size matter? Not for members in CTA’s smallest local chapters. Advocacy to helps students and improve working and learning conditions looks a little different, yet is still the same. Listen in as members from small chapters talk about their big accomplishments.
Curtis Creek Faculty Association: Meeting students’ needs, promoting students’ work
What began as a student art project to thank firefighters for their valiant work in the Sierra Rim Fire in August turned into a beautiful calendar that has raised several thousand dollars for Curtis Creek School in Sonora. But that’s just the latest of several big ideas to come out of the Curtis Creek Faculty Association, which represents 27 teachers in this one-school district in the Sierra Mother Lode. We sat down with Liz Miller, GATE coordinator and CCFA president, and Colleen Whitlock, science teacher in grades 6-8, to talk about the school’s recent successes.
What’s the advantage of being a small chapter?
Liz: You can get more people involved in projects. We have six to seven teachers in every department, so we can pretty much involve everybody. Probably our biggest change was expanding our science program three years ago so that grades 1-8 have it every day. We had a memorandum of understanding with the district when we went through the financial spiral and the district closed a smaller school. Part of what we did to help the district was go to one bus run. When that contract expired, teachers expressed a desire for students to have a longer academic day. Kids now stay longer at school, so we were able to add science as another period.
Colleen: Our entire staff has had science training. We actually worked our science teaching into our Mission and Vision Statement. Six teachers are involved in TCATS, a three-year California Mathematics and Science Partnership grant. This grant provides professional development for teachers to improve math and science instruction. Previously we had three additional teachers involved in K-2 STARTS, a four-year California Postsecondary Education Commission grant to improve teacher quality in science.
Liz: Our primary science teacher worked as a teacher at Yosemite Valley School for 20 years, and our fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher started her career as a wildlife biologist. Colleen got a Honeywell grant and went to Huntsville, Alabama, to train as an astronaut for a week. We even incorporate science standards into our literature unit and our school garden. We also have a local artist in residence, Tracy Knopf, who worked with the students on a school wildlife mural.
Colleen: Last year five teachers wrote a grant for professional development from CSU Chico for $30,000 to research a problem, talk about what we are going to do, and address it by collecting data. Because we are a Title I school, we wanted to find ways to use science to reach lower-socioeconomic kids who have high absentee rates. When we are doing those hands-on activities, kids tend to want to come to school. So we’re seeing if that correlates to the attendance rate.
Is there anything unique about your school culture?
Colleen: We’re a very small town. And we know all the kids. It’s really neat when I walk through the school and the eighth-grade students are all going up and hugging their kindergarten and first-grade teachers. We have a monthly assembly that involves the whole school and a Family Science Night where all the kids participate. Whatever we have, all the kids are involved and the older kids help out the younger kids.
Tell us about Rim Fire Reflections.
Liz: Our school was only six miles from the fire, and we were closed for a week. When we came back, we decided to do something for first responders. I asked our muralist to do an art class for the older kids called Rim Fire Reflections and incorporate art and poetry. This was never intended to be a fundraiser and never intended to be a calendar. Long story short, the watercolors were phenomenal, and the combination of the poetry did a double punch because we all went through it. When we decided to create a calendar, I added photographs and Rim Fire facts.
And it’s taken off.
Liz: We’re in 40 businesses, we’ve had an article in the Modesto Bee and in the Sonora Union Democrat. The student artists are going to Yosemite National Park to make a presentation to the park supervisors, and the local Sonora Area Foundation and Tuolumne County Arts Alliance are paying for the framing of the art going with them. A nonprofit organization in San Francisco, Wholly H2O, wants to showcase the students’ art to educate people about the watershed. I couldn’t ever imagine that this would happen!
To find out more or to purchase a calendar for $10 plus shipping, go to www.rimfirecalendar.com.
Lennox Teachers Association: Determining how CCSS is implemented
The Lennox Teachers Association has taken a leadership role on Common Core State Standards (CSSS) implementation in the Lennox School District. Just weeks after negotiating a memorandum of understanding that gives LTA a powerful voice in determining how Common Core funds allocated in the state budget are spent, LTA invited CTA Instruction and Professional Development (IPD) staff in for a planning session on the transition to the new standards. At that session, we sat down with LTA President Brian Guerrero and first vice president and bargaining chair Polo Marquez to discuss their association’s efforts to have a strong teacher core. We started off by asking them about the MOU, which establishes a teacher member majority to oversee the CCSS rollout and determine funding expenditures for the district.
Polo: The district was pretty receptive to our initial proposal — they had four minor changes, but the overall concepts were agreed to pretty easily. We’re going to be able to keep these decisions teacher-driven, including making sure our charter school LTA members are included in discussions around Common Core.
Brian: It really is a fantastic opportunity for Lennox teachers. CTA’s been great on this. Some of our members went to the IPD Common Core Strand at Summer Institute, and we were able to learn from other chapters like San Juan that have been out in front of this issue.
Polo: We also surveyed our members, asking them how they would like to see teachers involved, what support they think they need to implement the Common Core effectively, and whether they would be interested in optional paid in-services over winter or summer breaks. We left it pretty open, as we want to hear all the ideas out there.
Brian: This is part of a larger organizing plan that includes building internal and external capacity. We’re going to be holding site visits at every school on the Common Core and the Local Control Funding Formula. We also feel it’s important that parents are informed about the new standards, so we’re going to be holding small group meetings for parents to talk about this and the whole LCFF starting in January. This is part of an ongoing parent involvement effort; we’ve already had house meetings around other issues.
Polo: We have a lot going on. The member education piece comes first. I’m not sure everyone knows enough about this yet, and the site visits will partly be about making sure members understand what’s different about student expectations and thinking skills under the new standards. Also, many of our students come from limited-income families. A lot of them have cellphones, but access to computers and the Internet is limited, and technology is an essential part of the new assessments.
Brian: The district has already started working on infrastructure using some prior federal funding. The committee will be looking at those issues, but also focusing on the best way to utilize funding. There are textbook companies with prepackaged trainings around Common Core, but there may be better ways to prepare. We want to take a look at what we already have, how it fits with Common Core, and then have our members lead the way on training and implementation that make sense. Having teachers driving reform makes sense. The success of the QEIA program here in Lennox and across the state has demonstrated that teacher-driven professional development and regular teacher-led collaboration are hugely effective in bringing about better instruction and higher student achievement. I think this can be a model for us all as we shift to the Common Core and LCFF.
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