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July 29, 2015 

Teachers and instructional leaders kick off multi-year curriculum initiative

picture from curriculum work

One hundred niskayuna teachers to be involved in 2015-16

picture from curriculum work
picture from curriculum work

Remember that unit of study? The one with activities that you wanted to work on and talk about even after class was over? Maybe you told a younger sibling that the unit was the best part of fourth grade, or maybe you saw the older kids' work hanging in the hallway and couldn't wait until it was your turn.

Niskayuna teachers are well known for providing just these kinds of learning experiences. This past week, teachers and instructional leaders kicked off a multi-year curriculum development initiative aimed at bringing even more of that kind of excitement to Niskayuna's classrooms.

From July 21 to 23 in the high school library media center, 25 teachers from grades K-12, along with principals and academic directors, took part in a three-day training focused on building curriculum aligned with world-class learning standards. The 2015-16 school budget included funding to initiate the three-year project.

The curriculum building initiative comes at a time when learning standards in our state and country have changed, and expectations have increased for what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in school and in the future.

"We know that no one can bring learning to life like Niskayuna teachers, but they need the time and support that is essential to this kind of work," said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Gemmill said. "The exciting part is that this marks a return to investing in our teachers, which is exactly where we should be focused. Our faculty's ability to collaborate, foster best instructional practices and build curriculum is at the heart of our district's reputation for excellence and is the key to the future."

The teachers and instructional leaders who took part in the summer work will be leaders in this year's curriculum building work, which will involve 100 teachers from grades K-12. In the coming year, the focus will be on English language arts (ELA) and mathematics at the elementary and middle levels and the core areas of ELA, math, earth science, and 9th and 10th grade social studies at the high school.

The funding for the project essentially covers substitutes so that small teams of teachers can spend concentrated time building units of study for their grade level and subject area.

The teachers will have nine release days over the course of the year, in 3-day clusters. Each team is expected to work toward the development of three units of study, for use across the district by grade level the following year.

By the end of the three years, it is expected that nearly every Niskayuna teacher will have been involved in the initiative.

Many conversations during the July work focused on ensuring that classroom instruction is fully aligned to standards, ensuring that authentic student learning is taking place, and that curriculum is coordinated across grade levels.

The teachers left the three-day summer session with a work plan for when their curriculum development teams convene in the fall.