January 2012
December 21, 2011

North Country educators forge common goals on reforms

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Denise Simard, a member of United University Professions' Plattsburgh chapter and Michael Morgan, dean of education at SUNY Plattsburgh. Photo by Darryl McGrath.

To see how seamlessly New York state teacher centers can bring together local, regional and state educators to collaborate on the new K-12 reforms, look no further than the North Country Teacher Resource Center in Plattsburgh.

The teacher center is ideally situated for such an effort: It's located in a building on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, just down the hall from the administrative offices for the college's school of education. There, Plattsburgh Dean of Education Michael Morgan and his staff are both familiar with the work of the North Country center and actively supportive of its efforts.

Education students are in and out of the center's offices throughout the semester. Beyond the campus, the teacher center has forged a strong collaborative effort with school districts in the region and with the Champlain Valley Educational Services BOCES Network Team.

All of these ties have come together this school year, in an effort to better prepare future teachers for the state's new K-12 education reforms. At a recent workshop hosted by the teacher center, SUNY Plattsburgh education faculty and Plattsburgh K-12 teachers gathered for training on the reforms, which include the introduction to the new common core standards; a focus on "data-driven instruction" that considers student progress in the development of curricula; and new evaluation standards for teachers.

"This is a win-win situation," said Kathleen Fessette, director of the North Country Teacher Resource Center. "If we can partner with the faculty at Plattsburgh State, then that trickles down to the undergraduates in education."

Plattsburgh is one of six districts that has agreed to use the Teacher Evaluation and Development (TED) system for evaluating K-12 instructors, a model NYSUT initiated.

The SUNY Plattsburgh education faculty turned out in force for the workshop, including Dean Morgan and Denise Simard, an associate dean and United University Professions member who coordinates the undergraduate programs at the school of education.

"What you are witnessing today is absolutely wonderful," Morgan said. He noted that a number of adjuncts from the school of education attended the workshop, as did several specially trained "teacher supervisors" who work with student teachers in the classroom and act as liaisons between the SUNY Plattsburgh education faculty and classroom instructors.

"They're not full-time faculty, but they're here, so you get a sense of the commitment to a quality education for their students," Morgan said.

Just learning the language of the reforms is beneficial, Simard said.

"As faculty going out into the schools, it helps us to speak the same language," Simard added.

Teachers in the Plattsburgh city schools embraced the idea of a collaborative effort to create a teacher evaluation system, and teachers in the field value the opportunity to share ideas with their colleagues and with future classroom instructors, said Rod Sherman, president of the Plattsburgh Teachers Association and a NYSUT Board member.

Sherman noted he had just had a group of SUNY Plattsburgh education students in his classroom earlier that day, and had spent time talking to them about the incredible pool of experience, talent and expertise they will have access to once they're in the field.

"A good teacher evaluation system is a system that allows people to share ideas, not only within a school, but within a district," Sherman said. "That's what we are doing here."

Teachers and faculty do have questions on the reforms, which is why it's so important for educators to meet and talk, said Jane Landry, assessment and planning coordinator at the Champlain Valley BOCES, who talked about data-driven instruction at the recent workshop.

And as the Regents Action Agenda is implemented, the role of teacher centers as a gathering place for good ideas is more important than ever.

Said Landry, "Because this is a collective of 17 school districts we work with, if we see something great going on, or if someone else has a great idea, that sharing becomes part of the culture."