Aspen teachers go back to class |

Aspen teachers go back to class

Tim Mutrie

Helping teachers improve their skills may help students improve theirs.

That, at least, is the expectation behind the Aspen School District’s first-ever professional development handbook, which was handed out to every district teacher and administrator this week. The handbook outlines several avenues that should lead to enhanced student achievement, according to district officials.

Seventeen training courses offered this summer and next fall by the district are listed in the booklet. The courses focus on subjects in which students need to improve, such as math, reading and spelling.

Also in the handbook is information about teacher recertification (required by the state every five years) and licensing, as well as out-of-district course opportunities.

“None of this stuff has ever been in a black-and-white form before, so many teachers really didn’t know the expectations,” said Nan Woodson, director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development for the district. “It’s all here in one place in an organized manner, so they can access it. The teachers are really excited about it.”

The handbook comes less than a month after Dr. Doug Reeves, of the Center for Performance Assessment (CFPA) in Denver, presented the results of his organization’s year-long external review of the district. CFPA will continue to assess the district for another three to five years.

“What Doug [Reeves] did for us was validate what we already knew we needed to work on and affirm what we already knew we were doing well,” Woodson said, “though there were a few areas that took us by surprise.

“We’re taking those recommendations and acting on them,” she continued. Though the aim of the handbook is multifold, its primary goal is to make professional, college-level learning opportunities known, available and attractive to district teachers, especially those in subject areas identified as needing improvement.

“In order to improve student achievement, we have to have teachers who know their subject areas,” Woodson said. “For instance in math – an area where our kids need to improve – we want to better train our teachers, so we’re offering several courses where they can brush up on their skills.” The in-district courses will be taught by district teachers as well as out-of-valley professionals.

Woodson said the district “strongly recommends,” but will not require, teachers of the targeted subjects to take the courses. And though there is a focus on the “areas of need,” teachers in other subjects are being strongly encouraged to pursue continuing education opportunities in their respective fields.

By taking courses in their given subject fields, district teachers earn credit toward recertification with the state and “advancement credit,” which bumps a teacher up the pay scale based on continuing education and not just tenure.

The handbook also holds teachers more accountable. No more can a teacher take a course in an unrelated field to his/her subject area and use it for advancement credit. However, three new options to earn advancement credit are now available for teachers.

“Professional development experience,” which Woodson likened to an independent study, is now an option for teachers, as are “educational travel” and “professional study teams.”

“The district has never had these options before,” Woodson said, “and the teachers are pretty darn excited about them. Now you have five different ways to fulfill these credits.”

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