Admin Hosts Informational Meeting on Project-Based Learning and New Tech

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Admin Hosts Informational Meeting on Project-Based Learning and New Tech

By Sarah Asch & Emma Boczek

The Tam administration held an informational meeting for parents on April 3 in Ruby Scott Gym as a “Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Overview,” including discussion of a proposed contract with the New Tech Network. Approximately 200 parents, students, and teachers attended, as well as the district administration and all members of the school board.

To begin the meeting, Principal Julie Synyard presented the meeting’s agenda and set protocol for asking questions. That protocol involved submitting audience questions on notecards for a 30-minute question and answer session at the end of the meeting, eliciting complaints from some vocal audience members demanding a more open forum.

The meeting proceeded as Assistant Principals Kim Stiffler and Brian Lynch spoke about the implementation of the Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative (ITTC) at Tam over the past several years. ITTC is a district-wide professional development support system in which teachers collaborate and discuss ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. Other panel members included social studies teacher David Rice, English teacher David Tarpinian, science teacher Erin Ashley, and P.E. teacher Nate Severin, who spoke about using project-based learning in their classrooms. Seniors Lani Tice, Stasha Anderson, and Brissa Teodoro all commented on their positive experiences with project-based learning at Tam.

Synyard later described a four-year proposed contract with the New Tech Network, a private professional development firm focusing on project-based learning. Synyard said the contract would cost the district an estimated $300,000 total over the next four years, and affect primarily ninth and tenth grade students. The New Tech contract will be voted on in a school board meeting on May 14.

“We wanted our community to know where this is coming from,” Lynch said after the meeting. Lynch said that there were “a lot of people who are unclear and therefore upset, so I feel like we have a lot more communicating we need to do. But we anticipated that this was the beginning of many conversations that need to be had.”

Senior Jack Rogosin attended the meeting after reading a series of articles in the Marin Independent Journal and becoming curious about future of Tam and New Tech. “At first [the meeting] was really tense,” Rogosin said. “Then it turned into a lot of hostility. You had parents who didn’t feel like their questions were being answered, so they got really hostile towards admin…There was an angry, almost mob mentality with people saying ‘we want answers,’ but they weren’t really ready to get any answers.”

“I felt like I almost have more questions now than I did before I came,” said Sandy Goetz, the parent of an eighth grader who plans to attend Tam next year. “I’m concerned that too much emphasis is being put on group learning and leaving it up to the stronger kids to… bring up the kids that are struggling more.” Goetz said that she would like to see the administration “involve the parents more before the decision is made to make changes…in the way teaching methods are used.”

To end the question and answer session, Tarpinian reiterated that project-based learning is not new at Tam. “There’s nothing that we’re about to undertake or do that hasn’t been done here for a long time,” Tarpinian said.

Tam and district administration remained in Ruby Scott after the meeting had ended to answer questions from individual parents and community members.

Click here to view a video of the full meeting.