Those who can do, will teach, too, this fall in APS

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AURORA | Teachers in Aurora Public Schools will spend more time this year being students.

District officials have shifted 46 teacher coaches from administration offices to area schools as part of a larger effort aimed at giving teachers more opportunities for professional development.

John Youngquist, APS’s chief academic officer, said the coaches used to work out of the division of instruction and worked part time at schools. Typically, the teachers worked at a school one day a week, focusing on reading or math, he said.

“These people cannot just be told to go over there and be effective,” he said. “They need more time, they need relationships with teachers.”

Amy Nichols, president of the Aurora Education Association, said that from the union’s perspective, it’s a good idea.

“It really made more sense to have somebody that was assigned to a specific school,” she said.

The downside to the move was that some of the coaches had to switch up their routine, she said, and in some cases the coaches were happy where they were. Also, many had to reapply for their jobs before being reassigned to a school.

But, Nichols said, having the coaches — which are now called “teaching partners” — in a school, teaching classes regularly will mean other teachers can observe their classes. It also makes sense that those coaches are teaching regularly, something they weren’t doing before the switch.

“I think it really does make sense that as a teaching partner that you would be teaching a class,” she said. 

The move is part of a broader effort aimed at giving teachers more opportunities to learn more themselves, including more targeted training for teachers tailored to what they teach, how long they’ve taught and the population they teach, Youngquist said.

The district’s test scores have remained relatively flat in recent years, with math scores for high schoolers particularly lagging.

“At this point we haven’t over the course of the last few years seen our students progressing enough,” he said.

Youngquist, who came to APS from Denver Public Schools last year, said that after meeting with teachers and principals, district officials felt they weren’t doing a good enough job of explaining new standards to teachers.

“There has not been, from the conversations that we have had with teachers, a common understanding of where things are headed,” he said.

Youngquist said the district has also reorganized how teachers from various schools work together. In the past, elementary school teachers met with other elementary teachers, and high school teachers met with other high school teachers. Those group sessions will continue, he said, but teachers will also meet with other teachers in their same neighborhood feeder system. That means teachers in the Aurora Central High School group — which includes West Middle School and Boston Elementary School, for example — will regularly meet with each other. 

“That way they can better learn from each other,” he said.

As for the teacher coaches, Youngquist said they will likely teach one class a day but their focus will be on helping teachers.

“They teach one period every day and the rest of their job is to support their colleagues and help them understand what best practices are,” he said.

Patti Moon, a spokeswoman for the district, said the shift of teacher coaches has been underway for several months and they will be in place when students return to class in the fall.