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Common Core Readiness: Washington Elementary School District

Janet Sullivan, assistant superintendent for academic services, Washington Elementary School District

Janet Sullivan, assistant superintendent for academic services, Washington Elementary School District

District: Washington Elementary School District

Grades: K-8

Schools: 32

Students: 24,000

Areas Served: North central Phoenix, east Glendale

Although the Washington Elementary School District began introducing the Common Core teaching standards ahead of the state’s suggested schedule, full implementation at all grade levels has proved to be a bit of a moving target.

“Our in-house district assessments in reading and math have been updated to match the 2010 math and language arts standards, while at the same time, we are still held accountable to AIMS. And that probably is very difficult for teachers,” said Janet Sullivan, assistant superintendent for academic services at the K-8 district.

Money and staff size directed Sullivan and her staff of six to use the “trainer-of-trainers” mode. That simply means that Washington sent a small group of people from the district office to Arizona Department of Education Common Core training. Those people then trained “program coaches” to implement the teaching standards at each of the district’s 32 schools.

Sullivan’s Academic Services staff culled resources from ADE training, webinars and the Common Core website to prepare a training package for each program coach to bring to their school. “On my desktop, I have the links to both the PARCC and Common Core websites. I haunt them regularly to see what’s new and what they’re telling us,” Sullivan said.

PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Teachers came in over the summer to prepare a mathematics package for seventh and eighth graders.

“It gives (teachers) what the standard is, a suggestion of the number of days that might be required to teach that standard, identifying the essential questions, the suggested learning objectives, the vocabulary and any background knowledge,” Sullivan said. “We had them (teachers and staff) all over the building, in any nook or cranny, or space that we had revising documents and adding resources to them.”

Sullivan adds that the majority of training has occurred on early release Wednesdays and that teachers in general have responded very positively. “Our teachers were absolutely wonderful and very excited. They got right into those standards.”

According to the state’s timeline, Common Core is to be fully implemented for this school year. And Sullivan says her district, teacher training-wise, is ready. A big hurdle for her and other Arizona school districts comes in the 2014-2015 school year, when they are required to administer the PARCC test for the first time.

“We aren’t prepared technologically to implement PARCC. With the equipment we currently have, we could not get all the students tested in the time period that they’re saying it would need to be done. We simply don’t have the computers,” Sullivan said.

School districts can raise money through capital override elections to pay for things like technology upgrades for schools, but Washington’s last override election in November 2012 failed. That, coupled with nearly $56 million in capital funding that Sullivan said the state has withheld from the district between FY2008 and FY2013 has made acquiring the necessary computers and associated technology components difficult. The district is planning another override election for Nov. 5.

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