Pending Contract with New Tech Delayed

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Pending Contract with New Tech Delayed

By Sarah Asch

In an email sent to parents on April 11, the Tam administration announced that its proposed contract with the New Tech Network, that would have gone into effect next school year, will be postponed until at least spring of 2015. New Tech is a professional development company that would give teachers who choose to participate support in implementing project-based learning. The proposed contract would have cost the district $300,000 over four years out of the $55 million a yearly budget.

“It has become very clear that we need to build a school culture and partnership with our community that fosters productive communication,” the email read. “It is also our responsibility [as site administration] to provide a safe and productive working environment for our staff and a climate conducive to learning for our students. Clearly, there is work to be done in this area. For this reason, we have decided to delay the recommendation of a New Tech professional development support contract for Tamalpais High School.”

The email also clarified that Tam teachers will still be able to participate in the district-run Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative (ITTC) if they choose to. At a school board meeting on May 14, the board will still vote on approving a contract for New Tech at Drake, San Andreas, and for teachers in the ITTC. The email explained that the informational workshops for parents about New Tech and project-based learning scheduled for April 22 and 24 would still take place and that starting this May, both teachers and administration will look into other opportunities to provide teachers with professional development.

“We are still looking to work with New Tech at the district level through the ITTC. They will look at not only New Tech but other support providers as well,” Principal Julie Synyard said. “Drake, Tamiscal and San Andreas will still work with New Tech.” Synyard also clarified that multiple support providers can be used by different groups of teachers within one school simultaneously. “We obviously need to communicate, communicate, communicate,” Synyard said.

Science teacher Erin Ashley was among the 19 teachers at Tam planning to participate in New Tech next year. “I’ve really enjoyed integrating project based learning into my class this year and it has helped me grow as an educator,” Ashley said. “New Tech, the Buck Institute, and Edutopia all provide professional development for teachers to use project based learning. I have been using resources from all of these organizations through the ITTC and hope to learn more from them in the future. While I am disappointed that we won’t receive instructional coaching from New Tech that is specific for our school, what is most important to me is that I have the opportunity to learn from my colleagues and apply research-based instructional practices.”

When information about the planned New Tech contract came to light in the first week in March, many parents were concerned that roll out was scheduled and nobody had informed them. Among them was Tam parent Linda Lam who wanted to know why New Tech was chosen for Tam High. “New Tech Network is a project-based learning program, but there are a number of programs that offer PBL such as the Buck Institute and Edutopia,” Lam said. “To date, the district has not provided any data showing that other programs have been analyzed before contracting with New Tech. Also, it is common knowledge that several district administrators have previous ties with New Tech. Therefore we are concerned that the decision to contract with New Tech has been rushed and not been properly vetted.” According to Lam, the delay of New Tech is a “welcome first step” that will allow parents and teachers to learn more about what a contract with the New Tech Network would mean for Tam.

Senior Jessica Whiteley, the student representative to both the school board and site council, believes that the parent response to New Tech shows how strongly parents value education.“It’s good that the community is strong enough and willing to speak up for the students at Tam and to seek the best education options,” Whiteley said.

Among the parents requesting more information from administration at a site council meeting on March 19 was Joan Bullen. “We expressed to principal Julie Synyard the need for a public forum to answer the many questions that parents, teachers and students had in regards to bringing New Tech to Tamalpais High in the fall of 2014,” Bullen said of the site council meeting. This “public forum” took the form of an informational meeting for parents on April 3.

According to Bullen, many more questions need to be answered before New Tech is hired for professional development at Tam. “The bigger issue that needs to be addressed at Tam and district-wide is the lack of transparency in decisions that affect our children,” Bullen said. “While we respect that the administration has been hired to guide the district in curriculum decisions, we also expect to be included in open dialogue allowing for input on those decisions, especially when those decisions have such far-reaching consequences for our children and their education.”

P.E. teacher Nate Severin, who planned to participate in training with the New Tech Network next year, was disappointed to hear the contract was being delayed. “I very much wanted to participate and receive professional development from New Tech,” Severin said. “I have been implementing project-based learning a few times this year in my physical education classes and after reflecting on my work and receiving feedback from students, there is a lot more I still need help with.” Severin, who spoke at the informational meeting hosted by administration on April 3 about project-based learning, said project-based learning allows students to “take a more active role in learning, work collaboratively with their peers and demonstrate their learning in a more realistic and authentic scenario.”

Until a vendor is hired for professional development, Severin plans to continue using project-based learning in his classroom. “New Tech would have provided some much needed help on design, implementation and overall support,” Severin said. “But, I have confidence that I will continue to get support from ITTC, other teachers who are incorporating [project-based learning] in the classroom and other professional development provided by the district.”