Wayne Gorry, the new Student Achievement Teacher (SAT) for the middle school, came out and said what everyone thought: The SATs sit in their offices all day with their feet up.
“Really?” said the longtime Payson Unified School District teacher.
He and his three fellow achievement teachers reported to the board recently that the job doesn’t include much “sitting behind a desk with feet up” time.
When PUSD Director of Student Achievement Brenda Case created the SAT job descriptions, she figured they would spend their time coaching teachers who sought help, analyzing student test data and doing training sessions to help teachers make sure students meet the new Common Core standards.
The achievement teachers must help fellow teachers cope with an avalanche of change, including the making use of the new Beyond Textbooks supplement to the Common Core standards and Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a program intended to help teachers connect with students.
The achievement teachers also review timelines and scores to help teachers make sure students remain on track academically — all in a district with little previous tradition of either tracking individual student scores or mentor teachers.
Finally, the achievement teachers have to overhaul the successful Response to Intervention program, widely credited with helping Rim Country Middle School go from a D to a B on its state grade by boosting the performance of faltering students. The federal government cut off the grants that had paid for the widely-hailed program and the board decided to keep it going with district funds.
Gorry said he had done all that and more.
“Teacher observation, is something I had no experience doing, but at a two-day training I learned a model,” said Gorry.
He said watching teachers in action and understanding how he could help has made a difference.
“I can help provide them with concrete solutions,” said Gorry. ”Everyone can find areas to improve.”
He said teachers have worked to improve their math skills so they could tutor struggling students, even if their specialty is social studies or English. “The teachers at RCMS deserve to be commended,” said Gorry. “Some of our teachers who are not specialists in math have been doing math homework to brush up on their skills to help remediate students.”
But Gorry also spends about a quarter of his time in the classroom.
“I will be performing daily enrichment with excelling math skills,” he said.
High school achievement teacher Anna Van Zile is also doing walk-throughs of classrooms, organizing test data to better prepare students, helping implement Beyond Textbooks, and helping teachers with their individual goals.
She said she is focusing much of her attention on math.
“Having this English teacher step outside and talk to math teachers, is a challenge,” she said.
But she meets with math teachers from both the high school and middle school to create project-based lessons. Overall, she helps to manage.
“Generally, (I am) supporting our administration however I can,” she said.
Julia Randall Elementary SAT Roxanne Savage praised the program. In her own classroom, she saw the benefits of the Response to Intervention program. Now she helps all teachers teach and remediate.
“I want to share with you how overjoyed I am with the STAR benchmark system. We’ve finally reached the 21st century,” she said of the assessment program elementary schools use to identify struggling students.
She has helped to create a “data dossier” on each student that will follow them throughout their time in the Payson school district. The information will ensure each new teacher understands each child’s strengths and weaknesses.
The change has proven difficult, although way overdue.
“Yes, there has been grumbling — I can attest to that,” she said. “(But) they have been provided with a tool — I see Beyond Textbooks as a powerful tool.”
Now certified as a classroom observer, she said she had no idea the district had so many talented teachers.
“My hope and dream is that we will become an excelling district,” she said to the board.
Payson Elementary SAT LynnDee Carpenter said her first week on the job was a a challenge as she struggled to work out transportation and daily flow kinks for more than 500 students, all between the age of 5 and 7.
But she’s hit the ground running with a diagnostic test for each student to identify knowledge gaps that need plugging.
“I’ve been working with reading groups,” she said.
She is also meeting with teachers to have them share information on effective teaching methods.
“Change is hard,” she said. “We will have (to) give them more support.”
She hopes to bring more training to those teachers who need a little more help to learn about best practices.