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Genesee Valley Boces

July 30, 2020 - 4:12pm

Media Statement from the Genesee Valley Chief Schools Officers’ Association:

This statement is on behalf of all the school districts in the Genesee Valley BOCES region. Alexander, Attica, Avon, Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Caledonia-Mumford, Dansville, Elba, Geneseo, Keshequa, Le Roy, Letchworth, Livonia, Mount Morris, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, Pembroke, Perry, Warsaw, Wayland-Cohocton, Wyoming and York.

On the evening of Saturday, March 14, the collective group of school superintendents who serve the communities of the Genesee Valley BOCES region gathered around a meeting table to grapple with the impending closure of schools due to the emerging COVID-19 public health crisis.

On that Saturday evening, we could have never predicted what the next several months would hold for our districts. In a very short period of time, however, we found ways to feed our communities, provide technology, support mental health, continue instruction, provide resources for child care, and rethink all functions in our districts.

Fast forward four months, we are now faced with a challenge that is, quite possibly, even greater than how to shut down. The challenge we now face is how to reopen our schools. It’s one thing to shut down our schools. We currently have questions that need to be answered. A few of those questions are, but not limited to, include public health, teaching and learning, technology access, human resource matters and, budget considerations.

As July ends, school districts will be posting their reopening plans on their websites. Every district aspires to open its doors to staff and students the week after Labor Day as we have always done.

We know, however, that this type of traditional opening is challenging at best, and in some cases simply impossible given the pandemic and guidance we must follow. Each district is a unique organization with distinctive challenges, expectations, and capacity and, a “one size fits all plan” does not work.

While we may not be able to have a universal, prescriptive regional reopening plan, we are united in our efforts that each district will provide the best possible conditions for our students and staff.

Some districts may be able to bring more/all students back for in-person instruction while other districts might need to provide hybrid models in order to adhere to public health guidelines regarding social distancing. These decisions need to be made locally based on capacity and community expectations.

While we realize that all of our efforts are certain to be compared, especially with those of our geographic neighbors, the reality is no one has the “right” answer for everyone. All districts in the Genesee Valley BOCES region and across the state will have different strategies and plans, but all have the same goal: create the best learning conditions for students given the extensive guidance, and provide the safest work environment possible for staff.

A recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics July 2020 noted, “Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.” 

We agree with the AAP that the ideal scenario for Fall 2020 is to bring our students back to school. Yet, we know that the work of reopening is far more complex than opening the doors and operating our schools in a traditional manner. We know that reopening is about far more than simply operations and safety.

We need to consider the broader purpose served by public schools with regard to the intellectual, social, and emotional growth of our students. This work is complex, necessary, and important and we remain steadfastly committed to serving the children and families of our communities.

Ken Ellison
Superintendent, Pavilion Central Schools
Chairman of the Genesee Valley Chief Schools Officers Association

Kevin MacDonald
District Superintendent, Genesee Valley BOCES

November 16, 2016 - 7:18pm

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Pictured: Instructional coaches of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership with Jim Knight, director of the Kansas Coaching Project. (Courtesy of Jim Thompson.)

A new program for the improvement of teaching techniques has begun to take root in the Genesee Valley Boces school districts. The new program connects educators with trained coaches who review video footage of teaching sessions and provide commentary and advice to improve quality and effectiveness.

Jim Thompson, director of Instructional Coaching Services at Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, began installing the program during the 2014 school year. The program has since grown from 10 teachers in its first year, to being used in over nine districts in the area. Jim has worked as the primary coach since its inception, and is currently working on training educators in each district to become coaches themselves.

“We strive for excellent instruction, every day, in every classroom, for every student. That is our true north.” Thompson said, quoting his mentor Jim Knight, director of the Kansas Coaching Project at the University of Kansas.

The program itself involves several stages. First, teachers will meet with coaches, in order to establish goals and develop a positive relationship between them. Next, the teacher submits a 15-20 minute video clip from a teaching session. The coach will then review the video multiple times, implementing time-stamped commentary, concluding with a meeting and review session with both the educator and coach in person.

Thompson emphasized the importance of the teacher-coach relationship in the program, as well as the program’s non-evaluative nature, confidentiality and volunteer basis.

“The program is built on strong relationships and trust. We set up a relationship with teachers which not only generates trust, but also promotes a willingness on the part of both the teacher and coach to reflect on instruction and help improvement.”

One school in which the program has found a receptive home is in the Byron-Bergen district, where superintendent Mickey Edwards has instituted it in both the secondary and elementary levels. As of now, 40 percent of teachers in the school have participated in video coaching, and the school has begun training its own coaches.

“We offer it to teachers to help them improve on their craft and delivery,” Edwards said. “At Byron-Bergen, teachers are not done learning yet.”

Edwards compared the program to the model presented by sports film study, saying that watching yourself teach and seeing what you do well and what you need to improve on – terms which the program refers to as “glows and grows” – is an eye-opening experience.

Diana Walther, an eighth-grade English teacher from the school, is currently being trained as a coach for the district. As an educator who has seen the program from the perspective of a teacher as well as a coach, she claims that it was one of the most effective professional development programs she has been a part of.

“It draws your attention to things you’ve never thought of before,” she said. “Personally, I speak very quickly, so slowing down was something I needed to improve a lot.”

Walther also echoed Jim Thompson’s emphasis on the teacher-coach relationship. “Each session begins by getting to know each other,” Walther said, “in order to identify goals.”

Deborah Slocum, another coach from the Byron-Bergen district, says that her experience in the program also led to her desire to get involved.

“I had an epiphany, it was the most valuable professional reflection I’ve had over the past 24 years of teaching.”

The school has enjoyed the benefits of the program, so much as to implement it into their quarterly evaluation process. Each teacher goes through four annual evaluations, which often include a supervisor sitting in on a class. This option allows teachers to present a video session with a coach as one of their four evaluations.

“This ties into a growth model, where teachers can hone their craft,” Edwards said.

In the future, Edwards hopes to increase the size of the program to include many more coaches within the district.

“I’d like to see one in each content area, and a few at the elementary level.”

The program is in what Edwards referred to as a “fledgling stage,” and it will be evaluated at the end of the school year.

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