FAIRMONT – On Monday, Superintendent of Marion County Schools Randy Farley met with county Title I teachers to discuss the future of the program.
Mark Fisher, a Title I facilitator at Monongah Elementary, said Farley addressed rumors of the school district looking at changing Title I to a model based on academic coaching, which would change the model of Title I currently in seven schools in Marion County.
“We have been curious about how things are playing out because we’ve heard a lot of rumors,” Fisher said. “We asked him that specifically if they were looking at Preston County’s coaching model, and he confirmed that they were.
“He said no decisions have been made yet, and we’re just kind of waiting now.”
Title I is a federally funded program aimed to give support to schools educating lower-income families, and it is currently in Monongah Elementary, Rivesville Elementary/Middle, East Park Elementary, Fairview Elementary, Jayenne Elementary, Watson Elementary and Blackshere Elementary schools. There are 23 Title I teachers spread over these seven schools, who lead one on one or small group instruction with students qualifying for Title I instruction.
Prior to the meeting, Farley said he was looking at ways to bring services to more students, and the academic coaching model was a potential way to give this same academic support to more students. In the academic coaching model, a coach acts as an administrator to teach all teachers how to implement Title I learning into their lessons, rather than having Title I teachers take on smaller groups of students individually.
“We’re looking at ‘Is there a better way to deliver services,’” Farley said. “We’re definitely not getting rid of Title I in any way, shape or form. What we were looking at ‘Is there a different model to serve more schools and more kids and just take better advantage of trying to help more kids.’”
In his meeting with the Title I staff members, Farley gave some reasons the academic coaching model could be a positive for the county, including the fact that low socioeconomic status exists in every school, not just the ones being serviced by Title I. He also said that the rules of Title I have changed in recent years, and as of yet, Marion County administration has not looked at potential adjustments.
“I don’t think we have maximized what we could and we have not looked at different approaches in the past,” Farley said. “And I would like to start looking at some different approaches, so hopefully we can do a better job at the services we deliver to more kids.”
Farley said that these discussions are just discussions at the moment, and no concrete decisions have yet been made. However, the potential for the model to change has been met with skepticism and anger from teachers and parents, who believe the move would cause students currently benefitting from Title I instruction to be lost in the crowd.
“Those coaches are going to go into those classrooms and they’re going to tell those teachers how to be better,” said Nicole Walls, a parent Title I representative for Monongah Elementary. “In addition to that, you’re going to ask that teacher to keep that class on grade level while helping these students that are struggling. So now she has to divide up her time, which is ridiculous, and keep these students up high.”
Teachers and school personnel unions have also gotten word of this potential change, and leaders of the American Federation of Teachers spoke to a group of Title I teachers Monday after their meeting with Farley. The teachers’ worry was that their positions would be eliminated in favor of hiring an academic coach, and they would not be the guaranteed first choice for the new position.
“An academic coach model is not even defined as a teacher,” said Frank Caputo, a staff representative for the AFT. “These coaches can be handpicked by the administration without anyone having any say so, whether it’s the principal picking them or whether it’s the central office.”
Walls also said that current Title I teachers do more than just what is required in the classroom because they often help out in a number of school initiatives. She said she does not want to see regular classroom teachers overwhelmed by the loss of Title I teachers.
“Those teachers... that are already overwhelmed in classrooms that have already students that have sociological problems, psychological problems and now they have to deal with struggling students without the support these Title I teachers perform,” Walls said.
Caputo said that Title I funding cannot be used in schools that are not designated Title I schools. While the Title I money could supply academic coaches for current Title I schools, the rest would have to be funded in another way. However, that money could come from Title II or Title V, according to Stacey Strawderman, vice president of the AFT.
“We said ‘Why don’t you use Title I funds for what it’s used for now, and use some of the other Title money to get some coaches at those other schools,’” Strawderman said. “Just do it a few at a time and see if it works, and if it works then we can maybe write grants and get other coaches at other schools.
“But don’t take out Title I teachers away, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Farley said that nobody would lose their job if the academic coaching model were to be adopted by the Board of Education, and said discussions are still in the works. Any action on this subject would have to be approved by the Board as well.
“No one is going to lose their job,” Farley said. “We’re trying to just work through the process.”
Caputo said he was a Title I teacher for 15 years, and worked with a group of six to seven students at a time. He said that Title I teachers can help with more than just reading and math because they can be allies to students who may be having a difficult time at home.
“They do not work directly with students on a daily basis; that is what we’re losing here,” Caputo said of academic coaches. “Here’s something you can’t measure that we all need... It’s called self-esteem. Those one-on-one groups, you’ve got a kid who is not reading on level – that teacher can build self-esteem with that child in a small group setting.”