As new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards materials, practices and assessments continue to roll out, three Palo Alto Unified teachers will spend this upcoming year away from the classroom, working in the district office to help the secondary schools make the curricular transition.
This is the first time there will be district-level teachers on special assignment, or TOSAs, dedicated to the middle and high schools. (The district has had TOSAs serving the elementary schools for several years.)
Each of the three teachers will serve as a coach and facilitator in a particular subject area -- mathematics, English/social studies and science -- guiding middle and high school teachers as they shift their instructional practices toward the state's new standards. Suz Antink, a Palo Alto High School math teacher who has been in the district for more than 30 years, will oversee math-related Common Core support. Karen Logue, a Terman Middle School English teacher, will oversee English and social studies. Tamara Juarez, a Terman science teacher, will be in charge of Next Generation Science Standards.
Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards are not new to Palo Alto; they were officially adopted in 2010 with implementation beginning in 2013. And many teachers and administrators say that the standards' bent toward critical thinking, project-based learning and real-world applications have long been in place in many Palo Alto classrooms. Yet as new materials are released and the district waits on the results of a brand new standardized test that students took this spring, the district will rely on this new team of district TOSAs to guide both middle and high school teachers forward in a more cohesive manner than in the past.
"We've been throwing around Common Core for what, three to four years?" Antink said. "You would think -- 'Isn't it here?' It's just getting here."
"We should be able to help take best practices from one school to another to another to another," she added. "We'll start to get rid of some of the seams between the different levels in our district. We're supposed to be K-12, so we're hoping to make that a little smoother."
The three teachers said a major shift in all core subject areas will be the slimming down some classes' coverage to allow for more in-depth instruction. The Next Generation Science Standards push for science classes that don't teach just science, but also math, engineering and more reading and writing.
"The philosophy is that students will be thinking like scientists, doing inquiry, making experiments and thinking like engineers, solving problems, working with parameters, evaluating their work, collaborating with others," Juarez said of the new science standards.