Educators use summer to learn, improve


Wednesday, July 25th, 2012


The Bastrop AdvertiserSummer’s in full swing and while students and teachers alike are enjoying their time off, taking vacations and spending time with family and friends, some teachers are taking advantage of the time out of the classroom to enhance their own skills and base of knowledge and to improve education not only in Bastrop but nationwide.

Steeped in history

Attending a session of the United States Supreme Court as it announces decisions is a pretty big deal — one Leona Jones can attest to.

The Bastrop High School Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher was one of 20 teachers nationwide chosen to participate in the seventh annual Federal Trials and Great Debates in United States History  Summer Institute for Teachers, held in Washington, D.C., June 24-29.

In the program the teachers work with leading historians, federal judges and curriculum consultants to get an inside view of significant federal court cases, to study the legal questions presented in each case and to develop strategies to incorporate judicial history in their school’s history and government studies.

The cases studied include Ex Parte Merryman, a test of the president’s authority to suspend habeus corpus (an order requiring someone accused of a crime to be brought before the court); Chew Heong v. United States, a case challenging the constitutionality of exclusionary laws against Chinese immigrants; and the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial, in which the seven anti-Vietnam War protester defendants were brought to trial on charges of inciting riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

For Jones, the opportunity to see the judicial branch of government up close and personal — and the opportunity to see the Supreme Court in action and to meet and speak with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — was simply amazing.

Describing the Supreme Court session, in which the justices read their ruling on the Arizona immigration case, as “the highlight of the trip,” Jones went on to say she was blown away by meeting Ginsburg and participating in the question-and-answer session with her in her private chambers.

“We had a lovely chat and she talked about some of the cases she’s been involved with over the years,” Jones said. “She talked about the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and she was just incredible. Being a women’s rights person that I am, that was amazing. That was definitely was one of the best parts of the trip.”

Jones went on to say she will definitely be incorporating what she learned over the summer into her classes this fall.

“I’m really excited about sharing my experiences and hopefully getting my students excited, as well,” Jones said.

Improving education

Doug Clark may be newly retired from his special education teaching position at Mina Elementary School, but his work in education continues.

Clark’s work in improving education not only in Bastrop and in Texas, but nationwide, has been extended. Hope Street Group — an independent, bipartisan group dedicated to strengthen education, healthcare and jobs by identifying and promoting improvements in those areas — announced Clark’s national teaching fellowship with the nonprofit organization has been extended.

He first began working with Hope Street Group in 2009 and currently works with a group of about 150 to 200 teachers nationwide to develop improvements to education which will benefit Bastrop as well as kids all over the country.

Clark said the national teaching fellowship is a competitive program in which teacher leaders help shape education policy nationwide. He said he was involved in a group tasked with developing a series of recommendations to improve teacher evaluation methods.

“These recommendations were used as (the U.S. Department of Education) began formulating the Race to the Top initiative,” Clark said, speaking of the program meant to spur reforms in K-12 education across the country.

They also looked at about nine or 10 states that effectively started using Race to the Top, including Delaware and Tennessee, Clark said. The group then designed a “playbook” of best practices, Clark said, which states and school districts may use to improve methods of teacher evaluation.

“They can go on and see all of those things that go into evaluating a teacher,” Clark said. “They can see what worked, what didn’t, what they can use to improve what they’re doing.”

Now, with his extended fellowship, Clark said he will be continuing his work in those areas and will be working in other areas, including a new initiative in the discussion phase which will be called Project Respect. If it moves to implementation, Project Respect would help restore a sense of respect and authority in the classroom, he said.

“It really comes as close as anything I’ve seen to what we need to do to change the teaching system,” he said.

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