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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: DESERT Project
published: 12/03/1998
posted to site: 12/03/1998

Annual Overview Year One

Note: Year One of the DESERT Project Evaluation covers a period from May 1,1998 when funding was initiated, to August 31,1998. Since this time period included a summer vacation period from May 20-August 12 for some of the project staff, and most new staff were not actually hired until the start of the 1998-99 school year in August, there was limited opportunity to conduct the proposed programs in the NSF official evaluation period for this year. Much of the summer effort was devoted to hiring the new DESERT staff members, setting up facilities for their operation, and conducting general overviews for site facilitators and principals. DESERT Project staff have initiated professional development activities within the three strands and have begun to implement components of the Project. To provide a more inclusive profile of the current status of the DESERT Project, this overview and subsequent narrative reports project activity up until October 31,1998.

Description of Project

The DESERT Project (District wide Emphasis on Science Education Reform in Tucson), located in Tucson, Arizona, began its five-year LSC K-8 science education reform initiative in May 1998. The overall aim of the project is to create systemic change in the way science is perceived and taught, so that all students become scientifically literate: all students will know, understand, and apply scientific concepts and skills to solve problems and make decisions about important issues that involve science and technology in the workplace and the community. The Project, in collaboration with the University of Arizona and the business community, has three goals:

  • promote clear standards for effective science education which follow the guidelines outlined by the National Science Education Standards;

  • provide both districtwide and site-based professional development for educators to develop capacity to teach science and improve student achievement;

  • develop sites as learning communities to sustain systemwide reform efforts.

The district serves over 63,000 students, 53 percent of whom are ethnic minorities and 56 percent of whom receive free or reduced lunch. Bilingual education (Spanish) is a significant focus in 63 schools in the district. TUSD operates 74 elementary schools, 20 middle schools, and 11 high schools. The mission of the district is to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and personal qualities they will need to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Over five years, the Project will provide both districtwide and site-based professional development for roughly 1500 teachers, 94 principals, and 28 assistant principals. Three strands of professional development -- leadership, districtwide, and site-based -- target the different systemic levels and concerns of staff throughout the district.

The leadership strand will provide key leaders with the necessary knowledge and skills to become change agents for science education reform in the district. The strand includes all 94 principals, 28 assistant principals, eight Collaborative Teachers, 20 Action Research Teachers, and 94 school-based Site Facilitators. Project plans had called for a 10-day Leadership Academy in the summer of 1998. Because the LSC funding was not available from the National Science Foundation until May of 1998, the Academy was postponed; however, this cadre has begun and will continue to participate in numerous leadership activities throughout the 1998-99 school year.

In July 1998, 47 principals attended a two-day conference -- Principals Understanding Leadership in Science Education (PULSE) -- that provided an overview of the DESERT Project. The PULSE conference also introduced principals to the knowledge and strategies they will need to help facilitate site-based reform. Site Facilitators (94) attended a one-day introductory session during the summer of 98 that focused on their roles in the Project and provided opportunity to explore inquiry in science teaching and learning and student questioning as a teaching/learning strategy through participation in activities from FOSS units. The session also aimed at grounding their work in the National Science Education Standards.

Following the Collaborative Teachers hiring in August, their professional development activities have focused on helping them understand the change process, through Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) activities; learning facilitation skills (16 hours) to enhance their work with the sites; exploring classroom management strategies to help them in their roles as coaches; and enhancing their knowledge and understanding of the district’s CORE Science Curriculum through weekly professional development sessions, enabling them to become "CORE experts" at all grade levels in preparation for their teaching of the Foundation Level II courses. A retreat was conducted in September to help CTs develop consistent and coherent professional development goals for the twelve school sites they each work with.

The district wide strand affords professional development opportunities for all K-8 teachers to help them meet the science needs of diverse learners. Four Foundation Level courses address 1) introduction to CORE units, 2) experience with inquiry, 3) content, and 4) assessment strategies. These grade specific courses aim at developing a consistent curriculum and increasing confidence and expertise in providing effective science education. Since August 1998, 16 level one courses have been offered. Level two will begin in January, 1999. One content course is underway with more planned for the spring & summer of 1999. Three of the four Foundation courses will be offered each of the five years of the Project; the Foundation courses focusing on assessment literacy will be offered each year beginning in the second year of the Project. The expectation is for all K-8 teachers in the district to participate in the four courses during the five years of the DESERT Project.

The site-based strand is designed to encourage peer collaboration to develop a professional learning community at each site, and promote shared leadership among teachers, principals, assistant principals, and Site Facilitators. In this strand, the DESERT staff will facilitate site planning sessions, introduce strategies such as community building, peer coaching, action research, journaling, mentoring, networking, and study groups. The first cohort of 20 sites will begin in the summer of 1999. Additional cohorts of 20 sites will be addressed each consecutive summer. Each site will initiate their work by completing self assessments that help define the site’s progress toward the goals of the DESERT project.

In support of these professional development strands, the DESERT Project has developed a partnership with the University of Arizona to support the learning of K-8 teachers and leaders. U of A's Science and Mathematics Education Center (SAMEC), has recruited over 100 Scientist Partners who will contribute a minimum of 300 days each year to Project activities. Following orientation, Scientist Partners will participate in all professional development workshops, institutes, and academies with the goal of helping TUSD educators understand and develop scientific habits of mind and increase science content knowledge as related to the curricular materials. The University has committed to supporting the Scientist Partners program by funding a half-time position for an individual to manage recruitment and orientation of new Scientist Partners, and coordinate the schedules of the Scientist Partners with the activities of the Project.

Two district-coordinated support components are designed to enhance the process of systemic reform -- Special Presenters, and the DESERT Web technology infrastructure. In order to provide release time for teachers’ professional development, specially-trained presenters will teach classes using an in-depth, critical thinking and science exploration tool, The Private Eye. The DESERT Web is intended to provide a central source of information about the Project and a vehicle for collaboration and networking among participants. The Web will be specifically designed as a tool for participants to structure their own communication, and will provide links to additional on-line tools, such as NCREL’s Pathways to School Improvement Network (1993).

Given the funding delays and systemic constraints, Project staff have modified their initial start-up activities, incorporating many of them into the coming school year and expanding on them during the summer of 1999. As many other experienced LSC communities have advised, important lessons are that gearing up is rarely smooth and requires flexibility and patience to persevere. The DESERT Project staff is anticipating a full year of activity in Year Two!