Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
After strict budget cuts in May, Ithaca City School District (ICSD) teachers are moving forward with professional development trainings for a new education program that focuses on metacognition.
Due to New York State budget cuts and the May 2014 budget vote, the installment of a nationally recognized education program founded by the Cabrera Research Initiative has come to a stalemate within ICSD. The New York State Senate passed the Gap Elimination Adjustment in 2010 to help close a multi-billion dollar state deficit, resulting in billions dollars of loss and educational resources for school districts in NY state.
Superintendent of the Board of Education Luvelle Brown discussed the effect of the GEA on the budget process for ICSD. He said the past few years have resulted in a loss of about $18 million, and this current year will be an additional $3.5 million the district will not receive.
The current operating budget of ICSD is about $111 million, which Dr. Brown pointed out is a $2.6 million reduction from last year’s budget.
The program saved
A group of teachers grouped under ThinkNation at the Dewitt Middle School have taken it upon themselves to make sure the research program would continue despite budget cuts. They decided to start a petition to inform the Board that the formal professional development with Cabrera Research, now lacking the necessary funding, would be missed.
“The petition helped us communicate to other teachers in the district that there were still resources if they still wanted to pursue DSRP (distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives) professional development, even though it would look very different than in past years,” said Caitlin Redfield, a seventh grade teacher at DeWitt.
ThinkNation plans to continue professional development training themselves. The Cabrera Research is based on pedagogic principles, which refers to the art and science of teaching and learning. Using DSRP, the program combines technology on aesthetic and software platforms.
The DeWitt Middle School currently houses a model classroom that incorporates writable desktops and wall space, hands and eyes on learning tools, buoy chairs, and other innovative tools not seen in the traditional classroom. Before the budget cuts, the ICSD had plans to install more of the tools and furniture in classrooms throughout the district, but the process has been slowed due to lack of funding.
“Classrooms are not changing all at once — it’s been a more gradual shift. Teachers are adopting the principles and technologies on their own and incorporating the white board tables and chairs as the school can afford them,” said Laura Cabrera, co-founder of Cabrera Research.
“I am [still] using the mapping and ThinkBlocks [technologies] with my students. This year, [they] didn’t seem to struggle as much with identifying the genres in an activity because we had mapped it out and then used the blocks,” said Redfield.
Redfield said teachers will have an opportunity to lead discussions and mini-trainings during after school meetings.
“I’m not sure what DSRP looks like in other schools, but I know for Dewitt its organized by the teachers.”
They have already taken it upon themselves by holding a DSRP workshop on the second day of classes.
“Superintendents and principals can lead change, but sometimes the biggest change is from the teachers when they begin the leading,” said Derek Cabrera, co-founder of Cabrera Research.
Brown has said that despite the budget cuts, ICSD has reached the New York State government’s expectations of schools to close achievement gaps, increase graduation rates, and implement the Common Core.
Though the NYS Governor’s Executive Budget has proposed a plan to restore $300 million to the GEA, NY Senator John Flanagan has said a greater fiscal plan is necessary to restore the damage done and will work with legislators to achieve that goal.
Until then, ICSD teachers will continue their efforts to implement DSRP into their teaching and learning developments. Redfield added, “I am confident in our district and, especially in DeWitt, that the students’ learning progression will not suffer. It is frustrating at times trying to do more with less, but if DSRP has taught us anything, it is that you need to think and we will continue to be thinking creatively to ensure the success of our students.”