Nearly 150 Palo Alto elementary and middle-school teachers returned to school Monday for an optional four-day "summer institute on the teaching of writing."
Coaches from Teachers College of Columbia University will guide the Palo Alto teachers through lessons on topics like "architecture of effective writing mini-lessons" and the best ways to confer with and encourage young writers.
"In this age of media we need to be able to help kids look at media, figure out how to make sense out of it and then to communicate it, and a critical part of that is writing," said Palo Alto's Director of Elementary Education Kathleen Meagher.
"It's not something our district has focused on in awhile so I'm excited we can bring in such a high-quality program to focus on this."
The institute -- for which teachers will be compensated for three out of the four days -- is part of a larger, district-wide push to boost the "professional development" of teachers and staff.
The Board of Education earlier this year authorized a special $5 million fund for that purpose, to be spent over three years.
The district's labor contract with the teachers' union, ratified this spring, provides for the first time that teachers participate in mandatory but compensated professional development amounting to at least 18 hours every two years starting in 2014-15. The 18 hours are to be over and above the three "staff development days" teachers must attend during the school year.
The district relies on a network of so-called "TOSAs" (teachers on special assignment), who specialize in math or literacy and make the rounds of campuses to observe and coach fellow teachers. Superintendent Kevin Skelly recently created a new position of "coordinator of professional development" and named former TOSA and language specialist Kelly Bikle to the post.
Meagher said teachers flocked to sign up for the writing seminars even before they knew they'd be paid, and that the limited-enrollment institute ended up with a waiting list.
"It's good to see our staff getting together around something it's really important for all of us to get better at," Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the teachers assembled Monday at Jordan Middle School.
"It honors the profession and provides support for teachers to do that. It's a chance for us to really emphasize what we tell our kids -- to learn and get better."
All of Palo Alto's 800-plus teachers are due to return to work Monday, Aug. 12. The first day of school is Thursday, Aug. 15.