In-person PD is back and educators are eagerly hitting the road again

Leaders acknowledge some risk but say many staffers are vaccinated and will take safety precautions
By: | November 22, 2021
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Many districts are once again allowing administrators to travel to professional development sessions, including conferences, even as COVID rollercoasters through a third school year.

In a recent District Administration national survey of superintendents, 97 percent of 700-plus respondents said that their district will allow out-of-district travel in 2022, while 87 percent said their district will allow out-of-state travel in 2022.

Superintendent Dave Deets, of Harmony-Emge SD 175 in Illinois, says he recognizes there are risks but trusts his staff and administrators to make responsible choices and follow all safety guidelines when traveling in and out of state.

“Not only are we allowing it, as superintendent I’m encouraging attendance at conferences and workshops,” Deets tells District Administration. “After the past year and a half, I feel the need for professional development is now more important than ever as we address the academic and social-emotional needs of our school community.”

Melissa Varley, superintendent of Berkeley Heights Public Schools in New Jersey, echoed that sentiment. “I truly believe in PD and think when educators get out of their districts, their mindsets can change,” Varley says.

COVID, however, is not the only culprit still curtailing travel plans in some districts. Virginia Beach City Public Schools has suspended all non-mandatory professional development for instructional staff to alleviate staffing shortages that have plagued districts across the country.

Some districts, like West Ada Schools in Idaho, are allowing staff travel on a case-by-case basis based on approvals by supervisors. “With the shortage of substitutes, we are being careful of the timing of this travel,” Chief Communication Officer Char Jackson says. “Our staff is always wanting to learn how to be better at their craft and professional development is very important to their professional growth.”

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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools staff are fully vaccinated and the North Carolina is allowing all travel that is relevant to their positions. The staff is expected to abide by all current health and safety protocols, Chief Communications Officer Andy Jenks says.

And Stacy Guzzetta, executive director of student operations at Friendswood ISD in Texas, says her staff is excited to return to in-person conferences after months of virtual meetings. “So much of what is gained from business travel is the networking and learning from others as well as the team-building that occurs during the trip and in the learning sessions,” Guzzetta says.