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Thursday, September 28, 2017
Colleagues, 
 
The new academic standards in Tennessee have created a sense of urgency for our District like never before. As a result, we're trying to be extremely thoughtful - and research-focused - with regard to the shifts in instructional practices that we are asking teachers to make. As you know, we are in the implementation year of the new Expeditionary Learning (EL) curriculum in grades K-5. We chose this curriculum as a supplement to Journeys because we believe it matches the rigor of the new standards.
 
I have visited countless classrooms and spoken with scores of teachers this year, and I've repeatedly heard that the change has been difficult. Most teachers I've talked to acknowledge the learning curve and struggles that are to be expected with any new curriculum implementation. Yet, a common and troubling concern I've heard is that we are compounding these challenges by requiring teachers to do redundant and time-consuming paperwork. 
 
It's very clear to me now that we simply have not done the best job possible in supporting you and equipping you to be successful in this instructional shift. We have to be better, and I've made it a personal priority to ensure that we are. On Friday, I facilitated a meeting with our academic leadership team, active teachers and representatives from both teacher unions to determine some actions we can take to improve immediately and better serve our teachers. Together, we agreed these steps can help ease the transition to EL.
 
First off, I heard that teachers want clarity about the lifespan of this curriculum. I want to erase any belief that this is a short-term or temporary solution. We believe strongly that this is the right curriculum for our students, and we will continue planning to implement it. We will also continue to use Journeys side by side with EL to strengthen foundational skills, but the new EL curriculum will supplement to strengthen comprehension and meaning-based components of the core reading block. 

Some of the immediate adjustments that you will see are:

  • Collaborative planning support should take place in PLC meetings. (Details at the October ILT session)
 
  • We are removing the weekly lesson planning template from Eureka (KK - Algebra 1) and EL; however, teachers will continue to annotate.

  • At least one faculty meeting per month must be devoted to content lesson planning for teachers.

  • We will provide access to model lessons implemented by peers and offer a variety of PD sessions and formats to accommodate teacher schedules, including live and virtual sessions at multiple times.

  • Teachers will receive exemplar lesson plans for EOC subjects beginning in the second quarter. 

  • We will provide a weekly meaning-based guide for teachers in grades 9-12.

  • IPGs will continue to be used by administrators to provide feedback; however, they will not be added to the PLZ. (Additional info coming soon) 

  • Teachers will receive more regular communication from me and our Chief of Schools to clarify and reinforce expectations and next steps.
 
Additionally, in an effort to build off the spirit and momentum of last week's meeting, I will be scheduling bi-weekly collaboration sessions amongst District leaders, teachers and association reps to help us ensure we are aware of concerns and always working together to support teachers effectively.
 
I want to thank all of the teachers who have shared honest feedback with me, including both unions. This work is extraordinarily difficult, but I believe it is the most important work in our city. I am committed to doing this  with  teachers, and I know we cannot reach our goals without you. 
 
Again, I sincerely thank you for all that you do for our students and this District.
 
-DH