Members of the Tehachapi Association of Teachers expressed their frustration and appealed to board members of the Tehachapi Unified School District to wait to approve new science textbooks for kindergarten through fifth grade, saying they are unfamiliar with the new instructional materials and new curriculum.
"We want to learn and we haven't had a single opportunity to even look at these things,” said second-grade teacher Laura Moon. She added, “We need to have experts who understand what we really should be doing as a whole and they should be (disseminating) that information down to grade level mentors or support staff at district level.”
Board members voted 5-1 to adopt the textbooks, with board member Nancy Weinstein voting in opposition, at the TUSD board's June 25 meeting.
Board members supported the request to schedule professional development for teachers, in a motion when voting.
“The superintendent’s office will take care of it,” said Paul Kaminski, the interim superintendent.
Earlier in the meeting, board member Joe Wallek said, “I’m thinking that we need a policy in place because... the community — parents and public — doesn’t know when we have textbook adoptions. They don’t know they are in place, in the front office for review. They don’t attend board meetings, so I think there should be a policy in place for the public to find out about this."
Weinstein said when addressing Bonny Porter, secondary coordinator of learning and achievement at TUSD, "If you don’t have the buy-in to start this out, it's like an uphill battle to get this implemented. I just feel like we are not doing this in the right way and we’re setting you up for failure... It’s too important of a topic and it’s not going to set us up for success."
A district official sent an email to district principals requesting up to five teachers from different grade levels attend a science publisher exhibit, with no clear timeline whether materials would be selected or adopted this year. Moon was one of the teachers who attended the exhibit. And during a three-day workshop after the exhibit, announcements were made that a textbook needed to be selected quickly without time to try out the material, said Moon.
Many California State Board of Education policies outline what is expected from school districts on new tryouts of instructional materials, learning resources and tests in the classroom.
Guidelines for piloting textbooks and instructional materials in state policy 01-05 states, “The process of selecting and implementing new instructional materials should be thoroughly planned, conducted publicly and well documented."
It added, "At every step local educational agencies should adhere to educational code Section 60002 which states the following: 'Each district board shall provide for substantial teacher involvement in the selection of instructional materials and shall promote the involvement of parents and other members of the community in the selection of instructional materials.'"
Teachers and the community need time to review the books.
"Those books have been sitting in that district front office area with no notification to parents, to community members, nothing on TeleParent, nothing in the newspaper, or newsletter, and nothing on the district website,” Moon said. The books have been available for public review in the front district office since May 21.
Board members verified there was no policy in place to make sure the public knew about the changes.
Math, language arts and social studies curriculum has changed in the last four years, with teachers struggling to catch up and learn the material to effectively teach their students.
New common core standards from the California Department of Education adopted in 2010 influenced these changes with the intention of making sure students are literate and ready for college or the workplace, even if they move to another state or school.
Moon compared new instructional materials to taking a driver's license test and beginning to learn to drive for the first time.
"People choose instructional materials based on how nice they looked, but they were finding out that the curriculum of the vehicle itself and the way they drove it wasn't an efficient or clear way to go on the road,” Moon said.
The lack of training for teachers has happened in the past.
Teacher Vikki Lange said, “We have an opportunity to educate our teachers to make a better learning environment for our students and I would really like at this point to encourage you to consider some model where we are being educated as teachers. There is not one person in this room that doesn’t want to learn.”
She added some elementary teachers have not been provided professional development from the district.
Some feedback from staff was offered.
“I’m very sorry there hasn’t been professional development in the past. Adoptions were made without support for the teachers. We are well aware there are issues in the curriculum instructional office,” said Bonny Porter, secondary coordinator of learning and achievement at TUSD. “We are trying very hard to fix some of the issues with some new staffing. Hopefully next year we will be in a much better place."
She added, “We want to work with the teachers. It kind of saddens me when there is an ‘us against them’ mentality. I was a teacher for many years. I am completely dedicated to supporting teachers and the students in our district."
If the adoption of textbooks was postponed, there was a high possibility of the textbooks not arriving for the beginning of the school year, said Porter.
Earlier in the meeting, Melissa Kielpinski, chief administrator of business, verified funds for the textbooks could be used at a later time.