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Educators gear up for more progress with workshops, conferences


Investing in the professional growth of educators is a key part of The Cleveland Plan, the District's blueprint for reforming and improving schools. On Friday, it was clear that CMSD is doing that on a large scale, holding 18 different conferences, workshops and activities designed to keep educators at the top of their game and introduce them to new innovations in education.

While students had the day off, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and educators of all types gathered to share ideas, learn from experts and make plans to accelerate the progress they're already making.

One of the day’s events, the Multilingual Multicultural conference, drew nearly 300 participants who were mostly from the District’s 12 multilingual schools. The conference was the first of its kind in 16 years, said Multilingual Multicultural Office Director Jose Gonzalez. He decided to resurrect the concept due in part to the rising number of English Language Learner students in the District.

Gonzalez, a former principal, said that when he started his new position in July 2016, CMSD had about 2,100 ELL students. That number has skyrocketed to more than 5,100, he said.

Gonzalez said he wants to make sure teachers and staff are aware of the resources and services available through community partners, including Esperanza, Catholic Charities and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. He said it's also beneficial for schools that share similar challenges to network with one another.

“Often, individual schools become silos where teachers and staff aren’t exposed to new ideas or approaches going on at other multilingual schools,” he said. “We want these schools to become better connected, and this is one way we're making that happen.”

The conference included a seminar called “Refugees 101” presented by Catholic Charities volunteer coordinator Andrew Mathay. Catholic Charities is the largest refugee resettlement office in Northern Ohio and has resettled many CMSD students and their families. Mathay discussed the long, difficult process that refugee families go through before they are finally settled.

“When you’re dealing with students coming from situations of war or persecution, it’s important to remember the things that they’ve seen and been through,” Mathay said. “You have to try to separate typical adolescent behavior from that of someone who’s been traumatized.”

Early-childhood educators gathered at their own conference to zero in on their most important goal: literacy. Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon kicked off the day with an address to about 320 educators. Gordon said that while 87 percent of third-graders met the Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee last year -- a slight uptick from the previous year -- there is still more work to do.

Director of Early Childhood Education Nicole Vitale agreed.

“In kindergarten through third grade, the most important thing is for language to be built, because that’s where all other learning connects and it increases their chance for success later on,” Vitale said. “So this conference is a chance for teachers to learn better strategies they can use in the classroom to be more effective teachers”

Among these strategies are things like integrating PBS into the curriculum. WVIZ/PBS ideastream Early Childhood Education Coordinator Denise Hallman led a workshop that introduced teachers to resources offered by PBS that align with state standards. Other sessions covered intervention strategies for struggling readers, how to help students use iPads to complete research projects and building a culture for independent reading.

One of several sessions at Cuyahoga Community College dealt with culturally responsive teaching, which recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in learning. The workshop was led by Dr. H. Richard Milner, an urban education expert and author.

Erica Arrington, a teacher at Daniel E. Morgan School, said that workshop gave her a new perspective on how culture factors into communication and relationships between teachers.

“We, as teachers, have to adapt to the culture of our students instead of the students adapting to our culture," she said.