By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
Teachers aren't so different from students when it comes to mixed feelings about starting a new school year.
There's some melancholy over watching the lazy days of summer slip through their fingers. They may trudge apprehensively toward schedules, lesson planning, grading and the challenges sure to arise. Then there's the sense of excitement, new beginnings, fresh faces, fixing up classrooms and anticipating the rewards of shaping young minds, watching students grow over the course of the year.
This will be Patti Lapinsky's 20th year teaching in Volusia County Schools.
She's looking forward to being a reading coach, a position she's held in the past. Educators in this role work most frequently with teachers to improve their reading instruction.
According to the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse website, reading coaches must be successful teachers who are very knowledgeable about literacy development, curriculum and instruction.
Reading coaches don't guide just reading teachers. Ms. Lapinsky said a science teacher might just as easily require assistance to help his or her students better comprehend the curriculum content.
"In reality, I really love going back to school. I think it's all the new supplies, the exciting plans for my classroom and especially the students and all of their promise and potential. They are really what drive my love for teaching. I love their energy and enthusiasm - it's contagious!" she said.
Ms. Lapinsky has not exactly been a career creature of habit, playing it safe in a particular school or grade level. She has taught both elementary and middle school, worked with mainstream, gifted and exceptional education, or ESE, students. In addition to being a reading coach, she's been a writing coach.
"I'm not one of those teachers who wish for perfect classes each year," Ms. Lapinsky said. "I actually like the kid who doesn't 'fit in the box', the kid that's an enigma and I have to work to figure them out and how to get them to like learning, kind of like a puzzle. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the easy kids too, but I appreciate a challenge."
There will be changes this year which may or may not challenge Volusia County educators.
First, the unfurling of Common Core Standards, or CCS, a nationwide initiative to implement a set of expectations for student knowledge and skills high school graduates will need to have mastered to be successful in college and careers.
According to the Florida Department of Education's website, development of the standards was a collaborative effort. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices worked with representatives from participating states, a wide range of educators, content experts, researchers, national organizations, and community groups.
The final standards reflect feedback from the general public, teachers, parents, business leaders, states, and content area experts and are informed by the standards of other high-performing nations.
"We will roll out (kindergarten and first) this year, but we will be working with teachers at the elementary and secondary school levels to prepare for implementation of these standards beyond grades K-1," said Bambi Lockman Volusia County Schools' deputy superintendent for instructional services. "The groundwork has been laid and, while it will change the way teachers teach, in some cases, it allows students to be more engaged in interdisciplinary studies."
Another program Volusia County schools will be implementing this year is the Volusia Instructional Management System, or VIMS, which, Ms. Lockman said, has three components: the grade book system, instructional curriculum maps, to direct teachers as they implement the new core standards, and a data system.
VIMS is not to be confused with the Volusia System for Empowering Teachers, or VSET, the gist of which is contained in a 165-page online document filled with sections and subsections of explanatory jargon, charts and graphs, and, word is, that's only half the actual contents.
VIMS is new. VSET was piloted in 14 schools last year. All schools will be using VSET this year.
Volusia County Schools' spokeswoman Nancy Wait explained the differences.
"VSET is the evaluation system for teachers. It will not directly affect parents and students. It is separate from VIMs, which is about how we teach, grade and provide instruction," she said. "They are inter-related, after all (teacher) evaluations are based on performance in the classroom."
What do these changes mean for teachers, students and parents?
For Julie Murray, a kindergarten teacher at Blue Lake Elementary School in DeLand, CCS means less-scripted instruction and more creativity in the classroom.
"It's a really good thing because with the economy the way it is, people are so much more mobile, transient, and the Common Core Standards curriculum ensures educational content will be the same for students everywhere in the county," Ms. Murray said. "Yet teachers will have the flexibility to deliver that content differently, to make the method of instruction our own."
She said VSET should work together with CCS as a less subjective teacher evaluation tool than Volusia has seen in the past.
"This system is data and fact driven," she said. "Administrators and other evaluators will validate findings factually, not subjectively, and teachers will have more opportunities to meet with administration."
Ms. Lapinsky said her school, and the whole district will work hard to implement CCS.
"It involves challenging students and getting them to read and write throughout their subjects, ensuring students receive a high-quality education, no matter where they live," she said.
As for the new teacher evaluation system, Ms. Lapinsky said she embraces change and plans to look at the positive aspects of that, too.
"I think most of our teachers are fairly excited as we move forward," Ms. Lockman said.
Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, or VTO, called CCS "good work."
"We really do support Common Core because standards should be the same everywhere," he said. This is narrowing the curriculum, offering students much deeper levels of understanding. It's a better approach than ever before."
Mr. Spar said the VTO also supports the VIMS notion of using technology to lessen paperwork and manage student data. But, he said, implementing the three new procedures is a lot at one time.
"It's a bit of overload and the concern is: are we going to miss the potential that's here? We're spinning so fast to keep up," he said.
Chrissy Burke of Ormond Beach will march two students to Ortona Elementary School this year. She has one daughter starting kindergarten and one going into first grade. She said she's never heard of CCS, but that her eldest daughter was given a "practice test" last year. Ms. Burke thinks it may have been a type of placement tool, or baseline, for something new in first grade.
"She scored above the 56th percentile in how she processes putting words together and comprehending words as they're put into a sentence," she said. "I'm so happy they're both going to a school where each grade has only two classrooms and each class has a minimum of 12 to 18 students with one teacher and two teacher aides. Every, single child gets the same exact attention," Ms. Burke said.
"The biggest part for parents to understand will be standards-referenced grading -- grades that reflect what a student should know and be able to do -- versus a grade that reflects a test or homework score," Ms. Wait said.
Her office provided a list of new principal appointments in Volusia for the 2012-2013 school-year: Carrie Crkvenac, Orange City Elementary; Gary Hams, Horizon Elementary; Tamara Hopikins, Sweetwater Elementary, Suzann Kenis, Discovery Elementary; Delecia Stevenson, Indian River Elementary; Susan Tuten, Timbercrest Elementary.
Two principals will be transferring. John Cash will move from Palm Terrace Elementary to Creekside Middle School and Laura (Susie) Williamson will move from Discovery Elementary to replace Mr. Cash place at Palm Terrace.
Open houses are scheduled as follows:
* High schools - Sept. 4-7 (third week of school)
* Middle schools/special centers - Sept. 10-14 (fourth week of school)
* Elementary schools - Sept. 19-20 only (fifth week of school)
For date and times of specific schools, parents should contact their child's school.