January 2012
December 21, 2011

Teacher centers essential to classroom instruction

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira thanks the state's teacher centers — and directors — for always "walking the talk." The centers are positioned to support educators in preparing for the changes ahead. Photo by El Wise Noisette.

New York state teacher centers are playing a unique role in the introduction of the state's new K-12 reform measures, and NYSUT will make sure lawmakers recognize that in the upcoming budget negotiations.

Halfway through a school year in which renewed state funding has allowed the state's 128 teacher centers to once again operate full time, teacher centers are not only surviving but thriving as state education officials realize what NYSUT has known all along: Teacher centers are essential to classroom instruction, said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

"We know the relevant work of the teacher centers, and we will continue to show the evidence of that work through our commitment to all students in New York state," Neira recently told a gathering of more than 100 teacher center directors.

The 128 New York state teacher centers, which are staffed by NYSUT members, provide professional learning; workshops on new practices and standards; and a range of other resources for classroom instructors.

Most recently, teacher centers have worked with NYSUT to help prepare instructors for changes mandated by the Board of Regents in K-12 instruction that will introduce common core standards; the use of "data-driven instruction" that takes into account student performance in the development of classroom instruction; and new evaluation standards for teachers. (See related story on a recent effort in Plattsburgh.)

The meeting of teacher center directors last month has special significance. The state had eliminated teacher center funding for the 2010- 11 school year, a move that forced the centers to drastically reduce hours and rely on volunteer staffing.

NYSUT aggressively pressed for the restoration of funding, and in an 11th-hour decision in the last budget session, the Legislature provided $20 million to fund teacher centers for the current school year.

"We missed coming together last year, but we did not miss a beat out in the field," Neira told the directors. "And that's important to remember — that for 27 years, through good times and bad times, teacher centers have always walked the talk."

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who leads the union's legislative efforts, reminded directors they are their own advocates.

"Bring legislators to your centers before the next state budget is proposed," Pallotta said. "Enlist their support for greater teacher center funding."

State Education Commissioner John King also spoke at the meeting, and directors said they hope to have more conversations with him as the State Education Department embraces and integrates the teacher center network as a partner.

"We're very appreciative to have you as partners in this work," King said. "We're very eager to hear how it's going, and I'm looking forward to hearing what tools would be most helpful and what supports would be most helpful to you in this effort."

Al Shanker, the pioneering education unionist and former AFT and UFT president, founded teacher centers in New York as a way for teachers to share best practice and techniques.

A panel discussion by directors at the recent gathering evoked that history. Panelists included Joe Pesavento, Mid-Hudson Teacher Center; Mary Ann Luciano, Catskill Regional Teacher Center; and Elaine Altman, Kenmore Staff Development Center.

"The teacher centers have a long history of accomplishments, and we hope the state continues to work with us for everyone's benefit," Pesavento told the gathering.

With the reforms in assessment, curricula and evaluation, teacher centers are also liaisons between the state and districts, and between instructors and administrators.

"I know this room is filled with optimists ready to seize the opportunities ahead of us," Neira told directors, many of whom she greeted personally before she spoke. Several of them thanked her for her advocacy on behalf of the centers in the last budget round.