The idea of switching from specialists who have direct contact with students to instructional coaches for teachers may be worrisome to both Pleasanton parents and teachers, but the district is going ahead with its plan.
At a school board study session last week, board members got a briefing on how the plan is going to work. The idea is to keep kids in class and not have them leave for specific instruction by a specialist.
"You want to try everything before you pull kids out and put them in special education," said Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.
The plan to use coaches for teachers is built on the work done by the TriValley Teacher Induction Project (TV/TIP) that helps new and struggling teachers. TV/TIP draws its coaches from area schools, including Pleasanton, Sunol Glen, Dublin, Livermore Valley and Castro Valley. Teachers in TV/TIP work with coaches to improve skills, learn new approaches to teaching, and attend workshops for professional development.
Although TV/TIP has been for teachers in need of help, the principles behind it will be applied for teachers districtwide.
"The one common denominator is the power of the coach," said Kim Ortiz, TV/TIP's program director. "We all need someone to talk to."
Ortiz said her program has been recognized by the state and cited in a scholarly paper as a model program.
Several of the teachers who have been through TV/TIP spoke at the board's study session, including Kirstyn Meyers, an eighth-grade teacher.
"Before, I thought TV/TIP was me, how can I be a better teacher," Meyers told the board. "What I learned is, it's all about my students, how to make their outcomes better."
School Board Member Jamie Hintzke worried that some veteran teachers might be hesitant to get involved because they think they might not need coaching.
Board President Jeff Bowser was concerned that some veteran teachers might shy away from coaching because of TV/TIP's history of working with struggling teachers.
Coaching will be voluntary, with teachers who choose to get involved picking one subject -- math, for example -- at a time.
Member Valerie Arkin was concerned that reading help for students who need it might not be available.
"I would hope that we have reading-specialist-trained literacy coaches," Arkin said. "That would help stop kids from falling through the cracks."
Jane Golden, director of curriculum and special projects, said some of the applicants for coaching jobs are reading specialists, while others are not.
Golden added that training teachers will give them skills to help kids every year, rather than sending individual kids to a specialist. And, she said, the move to coaching is timely as the district begins to implement new teaching methods as part of the national push for Common Core State Standards.
Odie Douglas, assistant superintendent of educational services, said some intervention will continue, and by keeping more students in class, specialists will be able to give more time to any child that comes to them.
Beyond that, Ahmadi said the district needs more coaches than it plans to hire for the coming school year.
"It's all based on need," Ahamadi said. "What if a student is missed? I hear that from teachers and parents. Were students ever missed before? Yes, that's why we have an achievement gap."
The district is planning on hiring eight coaches. Four would focus on literacy, coaching teachers and parent volunteers for students from transitional kindergarten to fifth grade. Another would coach sixth- to 12-grade teachers on English Language Arts and for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students. AVID students are those who are not yet prepared for college.
One coach would work with teachers for kindergarten to fifth grade math, and another would coach math teachers from sixth to 12th grade.
An additional coach would work with teachers across all grade levels to help them with Instructional Technology.
The coaching approach is not new to the district. Ortiz said literacy specialists also worked as coaches when class-size reductions were first implemented.
Board Member Joan Laursen said people are concerned about the change.
"This is new for us and we're afraid. We're afraid as board members that this isn't going to work. Teachers are afraid," Laursen said. "There's a lot of anxiety in this."
Bowser said part of the fear is the perception that the move is taking something away from students and giving something more to teachers.
But, he said, "Leveraging (teacher) expertise -- it makes sense."
Hintzke and Laursen said teachers themselves may be the best way to get other teachers interested in the idea of coaching.
Teachers may spend some time in summer school this year, learning more about coaching. Douglas said about 400 teachers have expressed interest in a summer workshop. Teachers will also have training days on Nov. 1 and Feb. 28.