Jessamine County is the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this school year. Yet comments from teachers indicate many are not aware what the money is going toward.
The Jessamine County Education Association recently gathered anonymous teacher comments on the school district and suggestions for improvement; JCEA president Yvonne Marx presented a compilation of them to the Jessamine County Board of Education at its meeting Monday, Nov. 28.
While many teachers mentioned wanting to know more about grants the district receives, several specifically mentioned Gates grants.
Jessamine County Schools is involved in the Gates Foundation’s Math Design Collaborative (MDC) as well as the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), which focus on adjusting instruction to meet students’ needs and developing formative-assessment lessons. The district received $65,000 from a Gates “Integration Grant” in September; that money brings the work from MDC and LDC together in the light of the state’s new teacher-effectiveness model.
“The reason for the integrated grant is that it’s pulling in the training work that happened in MDC and LDC into exemplars of teacher effectiveness,” superintendent Lu Young said. “So it’s taking the professional-development strategies and then seeing how that interfaces with the new teacher-effectiveness model.”
The bulk of the grant money goes to hire substitutes if participating teachers train during the school day, or to pay stipends if teachers train on evenings or weekends. Forty-nine teachers are involved in the MDC; 105 are participating in LDC. Both grants include teachers at all middle and high schools in the district.
Young said she saw issues in the teacher comments about work-day training versus weekend training and spoke with her teacher council. She said it was a “really hard call” one way or the other since some teachers preferred to stay with their students during the day and some preferred not to have to work evenings or weekends.
“I’m hoping that as teachers gain more and more skill with the process and then of course begin to collect actual template tasks that they share and constantly revise and improve that it will become much more second nature,” Young said. “I feel a lot of empathy for the teachers when I read the comments about the fact that it feels like a really high expectation in terms of their time and professional commitment to the learning.”
The formative-assessment lessons that teachers develop are tasks based on new common core standards that focus on being able to adjust instruction for individual students. Young acknowledged that teachers developing the lessons might see grants in a different light than she does.
“When I look at the significant slashing of professional-development budgets that Jessamine has experienced and all of Kentucky, I see the grants very differently as a way for us to be more entrepreneurial about bringing resources in for teacher training, for collaboration,” she said. “(The Gates grants) plug a teacher professional-development funding gap for us. It’s really important to be able to offer teachers the chance to hone the skills that are now required of them with Senate Bill 1.”
Kentucky was one of only three states to receive an Integration Grant from the Gates Foundation in September. Jessamine is one of 12 Kentucky school districts that received funds.
Young said that up until last Monday she had heard very positive feedback from teachers about the training through Gates funding.
“I think there are teachers who are finding it to be very beneficial — and I don’t say easy, because I think it’s a pretty rigorous learning experience — but there are some that are finding it to be beneficial,” she said.