By the beginning of the 2006-07 academic year, schoolteachers in Prince William County should have a new professional development program offering courses that will be more specialized and tailored to their experience levels, school administrators said last week.
The system will replace a seven-year-old program that requires teachers to complete 30 hours of courses -- known as "Kelly points," named after Superintendent Edward L. Kelly, who leaves June 30 -- that they have to take in addition to courses for their state certification.
School administrators say the new development program, still in preliminary stages, will allow teachers to spend their time outside the classroom more efficiently. Many educators say the current system offers too many generic courses that can be irrelevant to their teaching.
The program is expected to be expanded to all school employees, such as secretaries and bus drivers, by 2009.
"If there was a problem or issue with the current system, for me, it was that we put out a menu of [courses], and I don't think that was as meaningful as tailoring the program to the individual teacher," said Pamela Gauch, associate superintendent for instruction. "Rather than having the teacher open up a catalogue, now they will be forced to ask, 'What is it that I really need? What will really help me the most?' "
The new system will offer programs of study for various categories of teachers based on their specialties and years of experience. For instance, Gauch said, there will be programs designed for first-year elementary school teachers, veteran teachers in science and mid-career middle school teachers.
Teachers will work with their evaluators, typically a school principal, to design their program, which will be scheduled over several years.
Meg Gruber, a teacher at Forest Park Senior High School who is on the board of directors of the Prince William Education Association, said she is skeptical that the county will have the resources to offer enough specialized courses for veteran teachers, particularly those in high schools.
She said one way the school system could bolster the professional development program is by helping teachers pay for online college courses.
"Online courses in your specialty area are going to be the way they're going to have to go. It's convenient," Gruber said. "And it's going to be something that I haven't had before."
Gauch said that online courses could absolutely be part of the new system and that she welcomes more recommendations from teachers.
During the 2005-06 academic year, school officials are implementing a transitional program that will require teachers to attend three workshops. Two of the sessions will focus on teaching and interacting with children who live in poverty; a third workshop will deal with the teachers' content area.