School Board discusses funding for staff development

Sherwin Amsbaugh and Emma van der Veen

Palo Alto Unified School District teachers will have the chance to improve teaching skills and student experience because of new state-funded teacher development efforts, which would help students at all levels of the district.

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education is designing a plan to allocate a one-time state fund dedicated to teacher development. During a board meeting Tuesday night at the district office, the board discussed what benefits and issues there may be with how to use the state fund.

This year, California allocated approximately $1.3 million to support professional learning for public school educators in the Palo Alto Unified School District, according to Kelly Bikle, the district’s professional learning coordinator.

Bikle presented an outline for how the district should design a plan based on three teaching objectives: all educators will understand curriculum knowledge and learn appropriate teaching strategies to support students; all educators will enhance their knowledge of and ability to support access and equity for all students; all educators will enhance their knowledge of and ability to support positive classroom and school culture, according to her presentation.

“We want to think about how we can support everyone [all students and teachers] with the things that they need,” Bikle said.

According to board member Camille Townsend, finding what the most effective staff development techniques are is imperative to the board because of the financial investment that is put into staff development.

“If we’re spending $2 million to $5 million [in coming years], I need to have more information,” Townsend said. “It’s a lot of money we’re talking about here.”

Board member Melissa Caswell affirmed the sentiment that there needs to be more research on successful techniques.

“The big question here is how to evaluate what the most effective way to spend the money [is],” Caswell said.

Bikle’s presentation included actionable steps to achieve the goals, including lessons on gender inclusivity, unconscious bias, new teaching methods and ‘Teacher’s college,’ or various lessons on mathematics, science, history, reading and assessment.

A large part of the outline emphasized researching methods to find thorough ways for developing effective staff skills.

“We need to make sure we are taking evaluation and feedback data and integrating what teachers say they need or want into our plan,” Bikle said.

The plan for the funding of teacher development will be voted on by board members during the next meeting on March 8 at the district office.