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GEA Update, March 2019

posted Mar 24, 2019, 1:54 PM by GMHSLibrary
Dear Colleagues:

I wanted to take a moment and update membership on a few items.

First and foremost, The GEA is very proud to have two members honored by the GEF and be the recipients of the 2018-2019 GEF's Teachers of the year award.  Both Terri Brooks and Liz Marchetti are shining examples of our membership.  I hope that you can attend the GEF annual Gala event on April 5th to share this tremendous accomplishment with both members.

Recently, membership requested some answers to questions pertaining to Atlas.  Listed below are the emailed responses provided by Superintendent Jacobs.  If you have any further questions about Atlas, please bring them forward through your building representatives to discuss at our next E-Board Meeting. 

The GEA is also working on a few issues at the middle/high school pertaining to Special Education and Administration over reach.  As always, if you have any concerns about management, please bring them forward to your building representatives.  

Also, if you are interested in having any by-law change proposals added to our annual meeting (date to be determined) or thinking about running for a GEA office, please let me know.  Around mid May, we will be looking for all by-law change proposals and look to finalize the GEA ballot for the upcoming year.  

Atlas question and answers.

1st-How much is the district paying to use Atlas?  

A. The district pays $5000 a year for the district license  paid for from the technology software line

2nd-  How long is the contract to use Atlas in our district?  Two members mentioned that they have siblings/friends teaching in other districts that did the same thing we are currently doing and those districts gave up on using Atlas after a couple of years.

A. The contract is a year to year contract and we have been contracting with them for at least the last five years

3rd-  If somehow a spreadsheet of standards and or frameworks could be implemented into Google Drive, which a majority members currently use, which is free, could we use Google Drive instead of Atlas to put together a curriculum map for each grade/subject? 

A. Many staff members are using google docs to manage their documents and they do it in the way that works for them. There could be a way to do what you are suggesting but it would be a lot of work to get it done in a way that is consistent and easily accessible to everyone using the documents. While not entirely impossible, the reason we use Atlas is that it is a structured template and process focused specifically on backwards design for learning which we adopted as a district. When we purchased it, we tailored it to our needs in Georgetown and  the goal was to have this readily available as a living breathing tool to coordinate and house the district's curriculum in an easily accessible format. It is supposed to be used by teachers to house their curriculum and things can be adjusted and added as need be. Ideally, teams of teachers would use Atlas to reflect on their units and modify and adjust as they see fit. Simply put, it provides the structure we are looking for and we have been invested in it for a while. We have done a lot of leg work up front over the years and now it is making changes and additions as needed. It is particularly helpful when new teachers arrive or change grades because they are not starting from scratch and we do not see the value in abandoning a system that is in place to create a new one that will be more challenging to manage consistently. Collin is very open to listening to ways that we can utilize Atlas better but we have made the investment K-12.  The recent accreditation at the MHS went very smoothly and the school received a commndation for having Atlas in place to house and manage the taught curriculum.

4th- As you know, time is always an issue and members are wondering where time can be utilized in order to input all material necessary for Atlas.  If this is going to be a living, breathing program that members are going to need to be updating yearly, could a PD Day be set aside to do this work every year?

A. The process of curriculum design and management is an ongoing process and the teachers are responsible for using the curriculum standards and structure to teacher their curriculum. When it makes sense to provide time for teachers to work together on a task like we did last Friday ( the feedback was extremely positive) it will be in the calendar but we can not guarantee that there will a designated day for Atlas every year because we see it as an on-going process that teachers will engage in as the reflect on and prepare to teach new units. This vaires based on the grade level and what they need based on what is in Atlas.  In the case of one grade level, they decided to change a unit. When this happened , they had to plan and load their new unit into Atlas because that is part of their designated curriculum.  In other cases, there are changes they make to the unit and those are loaded in by the teachers. It is part of standard one effective lesson and unit design and planning. Those are part of the decision making process that teachers engage in as they prepare to teach the lesson using the frameworks of the lesson for the grade level. 

5th-  Members also want to know why they were paid to do some of this work over the summer a few years back, but now the expectation is that this same work is being done for no compensation.  They are very concerned about job creep and that since the elimination of a Grade Level Meeting every month that their team meeting times are now being "Monopolized" with material that may be important but taking time of other things that grade levels would rather spend their time on, such as discussing students and looking at student work.
A. I am a little confused about the grade level meetings. As I understand it from negotiations, the Principal now schedules on meeting a month with the grade level teams. This leaves ( in a four week month) three other sessions one each week for the time to get together to discuss whatever they need to discuss which might be this and /or student issues etc. Depending on what a grade level needs to accomplish, they can plan accordingly. I am sure it is also they case that there will never be enough time to do everything that members will schedule other times that work for them. When I go back to my classroom teaching days, my colleagues and i met whenever we needed to to plan the best for our students and I am sure that our teachers do that as well. That is a part of a teacher's professional job as best they can. I am not sure about job creep because there are some things that take more time to do but fall within the responsibilities of a teacher.  In terms of the pay, when we ask or require teachers to do district work in the summer which is beyond the teacher's work year, we do our best to use grant funds and/or district professional development funds to provide some compensation. Some years that is easier than others. One summer we paid the 5th grade team to develop units because they were overhauling their units and they needed to have the first few ready to go in the fall. We also have paid teachers to align writing to their units and clearly we would love to have more money to pay more people to do this work. Having said that, because we have the frameworks for the units in Atlas for the most part, teachers need to be working with the program throughout the year as they are getting ready to teach a unit. Having the essential questions and enduring understanding, core activities and assessments planned out in advance has to be a huge help for teachers and Margaret should be using them when she is visiting classrooms. As I mentioned earlier this is an on-going process and not just a project that can be done exclusively in the summer. 

I want the teachers to see that the intention here is to do a helpful thing not to make more work for them. Collin can work with them to discuss ways to make Atlas work better for them so they don't feel like they have to do duplication in Atlas and google. I can see how that would be frustrating although I see them as being used for slightly different purposes.  I hope this helps and if you have further questions and want to invite us to a meeting, I would be happy to do that. 

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.