When LCPS teachers reported for the first official workday of the 2018-2019 school year on Monday, they came to school as students.
Thanks to a dramatic restructuring of the school calendar, the district is opening for business this week with an extensive block of professional development sessions for teachers, school administrators and support staff.
Over the five days, district administrators, curriculum leaders and guest instructors will direct 76 different workshops that target subject areas by grade level, provide training on new technology and build skills in specific work groups.
On Monday, 15 three-hour sessions involved kindergarten and first-grade teachers in math and English language arts workshops; middle school teachers in literacy training and in health and physical education sessions; high school teachers in math and English workshops; and school counselors and nurses and child nutrition staff in job specific training.
“This is something we’re able to offer because of our new calendar arrangement,” Associate Superintendent Frances Herring told the Lenoir County Board of Education at its July 30 meeting. “Many of these opportunities happen every year, but it has not been organized and condensed in such a formal manner. This is really nice. It’s a one-stop shop for everybody.”
The block of mandatory teacher workdays two weeks before students return to class is the first noticeable difference in a school calendar primarily redesigned to fix some vexing scheduling issues related to high school exams and the growing number of high school students who are enrolled in college classes. Unlike past years, this year’s calendar allows the first semester to end – and exams to be completed – before the Christmas break and more closely aligns with the Lenoir Community College calendar. It also brings school to a close two weeks earlier than in recent years.
Frontloading teacher workdays proved to be the key to making those changes and still adhering to the long list of state requirements for a public school calendar. It also proved to be an opportunity to better prepare teachers for the year ahead.
“The interesting part of having professional development before teaching starts is that you can set the stage,” Dr. Deb Winings, the district’s director of elementary education, said. “You can set the stage for improved instruction. Teachers have it at the beginning of the year so they can carry it on throughout the entire year.”
Dr. Winings was at Southeast Elementary School on Monday supervising the workshops in math and language arts. “Every grade level, kindergarten through fifth grade, will have a half-day in English language arts and a half-day in math, and third grade will have an additional day because they’re doing instruction in guided reading,” she said.
Like the great majority of the professional development schedule, the elementary sessions were designed and are being taught by “teacher leaders,” teams of teachers chosen from throughout the district to lead their grade levels and subject areas in matters related to curriculum. “The leadership teams in both English language arts and math have both done a lot of work to help their colleagues be successful through the year,” Dr. Winings said. “They’re sharing resources and lessons and the collaboration has been incredible.”
At the district’s Professional Development Center at Kinston High School, Vashawn Daniels was part of the team of four teachers from Rochelle Middle School being trained Monday on a new state-mandated digital grade book.
“We’ll take what we learn here today and go back to our schools to teach the rest of the teachers,” said Daniels, a seventh-grade English language arts and social studies teachers in her eighth year at Rochelle for and 10th in education. Middle school teachers are scheduled for professional development in language arts on Tuesday, in math and social studies on Wednesday and science on Thursday.
Daniels believes that intense period of professional development before school starts should yield benefits.
“I think it will be beneficial because you get all your training for your different courses, everything you need to start the year out right, at the beginning so you can start using it from the very first day of school,” she said. “It gives you more instructional time.”
Spread through the school calendar are five more teacher workdays. The redesigned calendar meets or exceeds state requirements for workdays (nine), instructional hours (1,025), vacation leave days (10) and legal holidays, as well as the first and last days of school. School begins for LCPS students on Monday, Aug. 27, and is scheduled to end on Thursday, May 30.
The revamped calendar, approved by the school board in May, applies to all schools but Lenoir County Early College High School, which operates on a calendar that closely mirrors that of LCC, where it is housed. Although some Early College faculty are involved in specific training this week, school began there on Aug. 6.