PD beyond school classrooms
Managing and keeping track of the many hours of professional development required for a district’s non-instructional staff may be one of an administrator’s more underappreciated responsibilities.
“There are a lot of different employees within the system who can easily be left out of the loop if you’re not mindful of the two types of training you need to present” says Nancy Hacker, superintendent of Springfield Township School District in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“One is required training from the state, but also, in each employee’s own area, there may be trainings that the district is either obligated to provide or should be providing.”
Sidebar: PD providers
Many districts do go beyond what’s mandated and also provide PD to help employees tackle emerging challenges such as cybersecurity and data privacy. And while much of these activities take place behind the scenes, administrators say creating a better workplace for employees equates to a better learning environment for students.
“We really don’t talk about this PD but we probably should—we spend time doing it and it’s important for parents to know our people are trained as much as they can be” says Rob Tidrow, chief operations officer of Richmond Community Schools in Indiana. “It’s their tax money at work, and it’s very important stuff.”
‘A big complaint’
A key challenge for districts is keeping up with changing PD requirements. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania in November barred schools from withholding meals from students who hadn’t paid lunch bills. They can offer students a simpler meal, such as a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, but cannot embarrass them or let them go hungry.
Springfield’s training will consist of principals holding half-hour meetings with cafeteria workers to review the new rules.
Other PD—such as spotting and reporting child abuse—is more intensive and more complicated to schedule, partly because it’s required for all employees, from central office staff to bus drivers.
The district has brought in licensed staff from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office to conduct group training sessions on child abuse and it has also offered PD online through a vendor, SafeSchools.
Reputable vendors can help districts keep current on new training requirements, but going online still doesn’t solve all the scheduling conflicts, Hacker says. “My secretary had to take those trainings—she can do it while she’s here during the work day” she says. “But the bus driver can’t. The bus driver is not sitting in front of a computer.”
Drivers participate in training when they finish their runs. The cost of training 30 bus drivers for a single PD program approaches $3,000, but Hacker says she refuses cut back on training because of the expense. While Springfield Township has sufficient funds, that’s not the case for all districts, Hacker says.
“That’s a big complaint that administrators have—legislators create all of these training activities without having to provide money.”
Newport News Public Schools in Virginia views PD as a tool that can shape a more effective workforce. Its two-year apprenticeship program operates like a school system within a school system. Non-instructional employees complete hundreds of hours of coursework and extensive on-the-job job training to gain salary increases and promotions.
“The goal is to develop a more skilled workforce, reduce employee turnover and enable the school district to build career ladders to retain more skilled candidates” says Stephanie Hautz, Newport News’ human resources director.
Some of the job-specific coursework is taught by supervisors in the various departments, such as custodial and child nutrition, while the human resources department provides leadership classes on topics such as effective communication and time management.
District classroom teachers receive extra pay to teach general education courses in English and math for employees who want to take a placement test to enter the local community college. Teachers have also taught Spanish to clerical staff and bus drivers so they can communicate with the district’s growing number of Hispanic parents.
The classes take place throughout day, depending on when the employees work. Bus drivers, for instance, take classes between their morning and afternoon runs. Custodians go to class in the evening, between the day and night shifts.
“They gain an in-depth understanding of school operations, and how their work fits into the district’s strategic plan” Hautz says. “And, they really feel valued.”
Caroline County Public Schools in Maryland relies on PublicSchoolWORKS, a provider of school safety training and compliance software, to provide the most current PD modules and to keep track of whether non-instructional staff have completed required courses, says Milton Nagel, the assistant superintendent for administrative services.
In Maryland, every school employee must take yearly training on bullying, child abuse, discrimination and blood-borne pathogens. The district trains also employees on avoiding “slips, trips and falls” and on how to use EpiPens for students with severe allergies, Nagel says.
Once per payroll cycle, the district uploads its employee list to PublicSchoolWORKS, which automatically assigns required training to each new staff member. Employees generally have 30 days to complete a training, and the software will send them reminders as the deadline approaches.
It also sends administrators reports on completion rates, Nagel says.
Employees also must pass quizzes to complete a training module. In the face-to-face PD of the past, employees simply signed a sheet confirming they attended—without having to offer any evidence of learning, Nagel says.
The platform can also identify an employee who has filed multiple claims for the same injury, such as back strain from lifting objects incorrectly. The district can then provide the employee with personalized training to avoid future injuries, Nagel says.
Richmond Community Schools doesn’t limit PD to what’s mandated, says COO Tidrow. Secretaries and clerical staff, for instance, get monthly training on the district’s student information system. They also learn FERPA rules about student data privacy.
“It’s homegrown, and definitely something we see as valuable for employees’ growth and for the better operations of district” Tidrow says. He keeps track of all of the PD, and who attends, with homemade spreadsheets rather than with specially designed software. One goal is to keep employees honest about the skills they should have.
“We don’t want people to go through two or three hours of training and, two months later, say they were never trained on that” he says. “We can go back and say, ‘Well yeah, you were there.'”
DA Matt Zalaznick is senior associate editor.