Principals cheer schools' successes
For example, the first-grade team at Morgan increased the number of students reading at grade level by 30 percent, and the school's fifth-grade students also saw record improvement in math. McNabb saw a significant 15-point increase in on-demand writing performance at the fifth-grade level, as well as improvements in math and reading, and Clark made breakthroughs across the board, largely through creative use of technology to better personalize learning, Black said.

In a step toward replicating those improvements across all three schools, Black organized the district's first teacher-led professional development workshop two weeks ago. It seems to have been a hit with the teachers.

"We were able to take a lot of the teachers who made these measurable breakthroughs, and we allowed them to share what they've learned and how they made those breakthroughs with other teachers," Black said. "We've gotten some really good feedback."

Through the 2015 Kentucky TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading, Learning) Survey, a recent addition to the state accountability system, Paducah's elementary schools were able to pinpoint some of their faculty and staff's biggest concerns. One such concern was a need for more differentiated professional development opportunities to meet the needs of individual teachers. The teacher-led workshops seem to be a step in the right direction in the eyes of the teachers, the three principals said.

Other concerns dealt largely with time (or a lack thereof). Large amounts of routine paperwork seemed to be one of the biggest issues for teachers, closely related to their other concern of not having sufficient time to meet all their students' needs.

The TELL results for Paducah's elementary schools were in line with teachers' responses statewide. According to TELL Kentucky's preliminary findings report, only 61.5 percent of teachers surveyed agreed that "efforts are made to minimize the amount of routine paperwork teachers are required to do." The item had the lowest rate of agreement in the 2015 survey.

Board Chairman Carl LeBuhn asked the principals if more time and less paperwork would actually allow teachers to devote that time to student learning, or if it would simply be absorbed by other tasks as quickly as it was freed.

It's a question without a real answer, LeBuhn admitted, but one worth thinking about. Clark Elementary Principal Steve Ybarzabal gave it a shot.

"There is so much on the plate of a teacher," Ybarzabal said. "I think sometimes our teachers feel very overwhelmed with the demands that we place on them. And so they see a question like this and they think, if I had more time I could fix it all. But even if we extended the school day another hour, I think we'd still feel pressure for more time."

Ybarzabal and his fellow principals seemed determined, however, to address their teachers' concerns and find new ways to support them moving forward.

"Really, like (superintendent Donald) Shively has taught us about knowing each student by name and need, that is my goal, to know each staff member by name and need, because we're not going to get any better by ourselves," said Teresa Spann, McNabb Elementary principal. "Our teachers have needs, and we have to make sure that we meet them."

Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651.
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