The Poughkeepsie City school district is a very small, inner city school district of 4.2 square miles that, so we literally educate just the students that live within the boundary of the city. There are just over 4,700 students. We are a district with many challenges and we're striving to overcome them.
What interested me about this project was that it gave me an opportunity to bring supports to my teachers that then would be supporting our, our students and that's why we're here. I also saw it as once they had the training that we could use their new expertise to help others become more comfortable and more knowledgeable.
For me the entire project has been just wonderful to watch unfold and from the inception to where are we going to focus and ending up with focusing on the English language learners I think was a phenomenal idea because we really can, what we lessons learned we really can roll out to the rest of the population. Because what's good for them will eventually be good for all students and all teachers.
My role in the project was to support Pam, to support the teachers, communication between AFT, WETA, the teachers, the administrators and anybody that needed to know what we were doing and where we were going. And what was happening next. I was just the facilitator.
The role of district leadership, local unions, and AFT, I don't see as separate. I see that we need to have a strong labor management connection that we are working together, supporting the teachers because again through supporting the teachers is the way that we are going to be successful in education the students. So it's basically working together, communicating clearly, and supporting the teachers that need to be supported.
One of the ways that union leaders can help is to continue advocating that PLCT's, or professional learning community time, is embedded in the day, in the schedule. This allows for collaboration and in these times, teachers absolutely have to be able to have those conversations.
Impact of Common Core
I think the impact that the Common Core will have eventually is that we are going to have stronger students, I think that they're going to be better readers, they will be better at analyzing and better thinkers. It's going to be a slow process because we do need to it but I think in the end we're doing what's right for kids.
Group of teachers
My teachers were the stars. I have the most phenomenal group of teachers that I am so proud of. They have done such a great job, they jumped into something that they were a little hesitant — they were afraid — but they said, "OK Debbie we'll do this, we'll try this," and I'm just so proud of them. They're, they're just great.
The way the teachers feel about Common Core is as varied as the teachers are. There are some that are extremely hesitant, there are some that, I don't think anybody's super comfortable yet, but there are people that are more comfortable than others. I know they feel they need more support and we have to find ways to give it to them through, again making sure that we keep into the schedule, the PLCTs.
By keeping into the schedule the team times, by allowing the teachers to collaborate, making more time for teachers to go in and do visitations. I'm actually part of another AFT project where I'm getting video equipment and we are going to start doing some videotaping and what's called master-coding of lesson so that we can help one another without actually having to get substitutes into rooms.
What I've learned
What I have learned through this process, I intrinsically knew but getting to observe it, there's so many things coming down on teachers and everybody, the tension is through the roof. They are so afraid because they're afraid of failing of their students. Teachers love their students and the last thing they want to do is fail them. So they have this new APPR, they have this new thing called Common Core, and they're intertwined. If we don't worry about the APPR but focus on the children and focus on slowly learning the Common Core, everything going to, you know it's going to turn out, it's going to be fantastic. And I've watched these teachers that have participated in the project, I've watched them bloom. And that's been a wonderful thing to watch.
The advice that I would give teachers that are feeling overwhelmed is take a step back, slow down, and look to your peers. Work with one another and learn something well, find someone who where you have a strength and they have a different strength and use one another's strengths to each become better teachers.
I am passionate about teachers and teaching — it's in my blood. It's been there for as long as I can remember. Actually in this district, I love this district, my roots are here, my father taught here, my daughter teaches here. I love children, I love teaching whether it's children, it's adults. I believe in education, I believe education, public education is our, is the future of our country, it's the past of our country and we have to make sure that we, we keep it going.
I think that the mainstream teachers need to learn about ELLs and the Common Core in that it will strengthen their teaching, the strategies that they use in their classrooms to support the ELLs really support all students. So, every aspect of this project or most aspects of this project will really support the mainstream teacher and the mainstream class room as well.
Debbie Kardas is the President of the Poughkeepsie Public School Teachers' Association(PPSTA). She has also served in the capacities of First Vice President and Treasurer over the last two decades. The Association is dedicated to maintaining a fair and professional relationship with the Poughkeepsie City School District with the goals of ensuring the most productive instructional conditions for teachers and the best possible learning opportunities for their students.
Ms. Kardas has taught in the Poughkeepsie City School District for the last thirty-six years in the positions of math teacher, Poughkeepsie Middle School Math Coach and is currently the AFT/NYSUT Innovation Fund Site Coordinator. Ms. Kardas has been involved in many curriculum writing activities, district committees and acted as facilitator of many teacher trainings. Ms. Kardas holds a BS and MS in Education N-6 and Mathematics 7-9 from SUNY New Paltz.