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  • 06/11/2024 3:26 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    This California leader is using AI to expand his reach—and become multilingual

    The Santa Ana Unified School District is launching "Sofia," a virtual AI assistant programmed to answer questions and serve families throughout the community.

    ByMicah Ward

    May 29, 2024

    Superintendent Jerry Almendarez (photo provided by SAUSD).

    Several months ago, Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Almendarez and his team recorded a video message to their school community. In the video—recorded in English—Almendarez shares his journey from being a student in a working-class family to overcoming obstacles and landing a leadership role in one of the largest school districts in California.

    You can also find the same video recorded in other languages including Spanish, a language he’s not fluent in.

    Almendarez and his executive cabinet have been engaging in AI-centered conversations for about a year-and-a-half now, he says, with the goal of learning how the technology can be leveraged in various administrative areas. “The communications department looked into it and stumbled across this translation platform [HeyGen] and that’s when they started to experiment and explore,” he explains.

    All it took was recording his message in English, uploading it into the platform and “voilà, the Spanish video was created,” he says.

    More from DATeacher shortage is being solved by this retiring superintendent

    As traditional AI etiquette would require, the translated videos included a disclaimer crediting AI for production. Almendarez says they were very well-received by his community.

    “We did get some comments in Spanish from our Spanish population,” he says citing engagement from his targeted audience.

    Using AI beyond communications

    Aside from targeted outreach, SAUSD has some exciting projects in the works, says Almendarez. The district is developing an AI virtual assistant to answer families’ questions about their child’s education.

    Meet Sofia, a “learning, evolving gateway to vital information for parents, staff, and community members,” Almendarez wrote on social media showcasing the technology.

    In this video, you can watch the district’s Chief Communications Officer Fermin Leal interacting with Sofia, giving folks an idea of its capabilities:

    “As we develop and train the model, we’ll eventually put it public-facing on our web page for community members to access,” says Almendarez.

    Advice for on-the-fence leaders

    A recent EAB survey revealed that only 37% of superintendents say their district has a plan for incorporating AI instruction in their classrooms. The technology is still in its infancy, although its functionalities allow educators to leverage it for enhanced learning and leadership. Almendarez invites other leaders to experiment with AI and get a feel for its use in their roles.

    “They should start by having a conversation about learning more about the platforms and how they can be used,” he says.

    When ChatGPT was first released in November 2022, Almendarez brought the tool to his meetings with cabinet, classified directors and principals to share its value and potential. One of the most important stakeholders in this conversation, however, are parents. “We’ve done a few parent trainings,” he explains. “The reason is to give parents the resources to help their kids with homework.”

    Superintendent Jerry Almendarez and students using VR headsets (photo provided by SAUSD).

    This month, the district also published its first draft of its AI guidelines, which serve as a roadmap for students and community members to thrive and feel supported in an “AI-augmented world,” the document reads. The guidelines include information on upholding academic integrity, transparency, AI in the curriculum and other key focus areas.

    “As technology continues to advance, particularly with the increasing intelligence capabilities of machines, our guidance on AI integration is designed to be forward-thinking,” the guidance reads. “It is adaptable to future technological changes, ensuring that it remains relevant and effective in fostering a balanced and ethical learning environment.”

    • Slide6









    Tech & CybersecurityArtificial intelligenceBriefingsPeople to WatchSuperintendents


    Micah Ward

    Micah Ward

    Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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    Only 47% of students feel engaged in school

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  • 02/09/2024 12:24 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    California adding apprenticeships to teacher recruitment toolbox



    FEBRUARY 9, 2024

    Apprenticeships are being added to the long list of initiatives California has undertaken in recent years to address its enduring teacher shortage. State leaders hope that the free or reduced-priced tuition and steady salary that generally accompany apprenticeships will encourage more people to become teachers.

    Apprentices complete their bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program while working as a member of the support staff at a school. They gain clinical experience at work while taking courses to earn their teaching credentials.

    “It opens up the pipeline to teaching for folks who are hired into the school district,” said Joe Ross, president of Reach University, a nonprofit that operates a teacher apprenticeship program. “We have people at Reach who are in positions such as janitors, working in the lunchroom, working in the office. The majority are teacher’s aides, but you have this entirely larger, until now, really overlooked pool.”

    California has joined 30 other states that have committed to launching registered teacher apprenticeship programs at the encouragement of the federal government. Last July, the Labor Department developed new national guidelines and standards for registered apprenticeship programs for K-12 teachers and provided funding to develop and expand programs. Twenty states have already started registered teacher apprenticeship programs.

    Registered apprenticeship programs must be approved by either the Labor Department or a state apprenticeship agency. They offer a high-quality, rigorous pathway into a profession through an “earn-and-learn” model, according to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The salaries of apprentices in these programs increase as they complete coursework and take on more responsibility.

    Apprenticeships attract and retain candidates of color

    Research shows that “grow your own” programs, such as apprenticeships, help to diversify the educator workforce because school staff recruited from the community more closely match the demographics of the student body than traditionally trained and recruited teachers. Apprenticeship programs also increase recruitment and have a 90% retention rate, according to the Labor Department.

    “We know, for our candidates of color, that affordability is one of the key considerations,”  said Shireen Pavri assistant vice chancellor of the Educator and Leadership Program at California State University. 

    Clinically rich preparation programs with mentorship, like apprenticeships and residencies, attract and retain more candidates of color, Pavri said. The candidates in these programs usually remain in the preparation program and with the school district they trained in, and stay in the field longer, she said.

    Residencies, unlike apprenticeships, focus on teacher candidates who have already earned a bachelor’s degree and are new to the classroom. 

    “Apprenticeships are relatively new nationwide but really rapidly growing as a way to address teacher shortages,” Pavri said. “The Department of Labor has supported apprenticeships for quite a while, but not in teaching.”

    Longtime school employee works toward dream job

    On a recent Thursday, apprentice Ja’net Williams, 48, worked with small groups of first grade students as they rotated through a series of stations during a math lesson at Delta Elementary Charter School. She has worked as a paraeducator at the rural school in the tiny Delta town of Clarksburg, near Sacramento, for 14 years.

    Williams has always wanted to be a credentialed elementary school teacher, but she couldn’t afford to enter a conventional preparation program. This year she joined the teaching apprenticeship program at Reach University

    Although it is not yet a registered apprenticeship program, which would allow it to access federal funding and resources, Reach University is currently one of the few programs in the state with an apprenticeship program preparing K-12 teachers.

    As an apprentice, Williams continues to draw her salary as a paraeducator, and also earns, annually, a $2,300 stipend and is reimbursed up to $1,000 of her expenses from the school district. Reach University charges $75 a month for tuition. 

    “I was looking at different options,” she said. “It came down to, it’s affordable. I’m a mom. I have a daughter in Sac State and one that will be starting at Sac City (College) next year. So I want to help them financially as much as possible, and take off the burden for them. So I couldn’t take on, you know, $40,000 of debt for myself when I would want to put that toward my children.”

    Williams works in the classroom during the day and takes classes on Zoom two evenings a week to complete her bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation courses. She and her classmates discuss their day’s experiences and incorporate them into their coursework, Williams said.

    After completing her teaching credential, Williams plans to continue to work at Delta Elementary Charter as a teacher. “I want to stay here,” she said. “This is where my heart and soul is.”

    Experts plan state teacher apprenticeship program

    There are 17 registered teaching apprenticeship programs in California, but they are mostly limited to early childhood education. There are no registered apprenticeships for K-12 credentialed teachers, said Erin Hickey, a spokesperson for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

    They may be more common soon. Pavri is part of a group of educators, researchers, state and county officials, and labor and policy representatives who have been working with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Division of Apprenticeship Standards for nearly a year to develop a Roadmap for Teacher Apprenticeships for California. Their work is being funded with philanthropic support. 

    The road map will help school districts, teacher preparation programs and other partners navigate the process and find funding to launch, scale and sustain registered teacher apprenticeship programs, Hickey said. The road map is expected to be released later this year.

    The road map will take into consideration multiple on-ramps and pathways for different teacher candidates, including high school students, post-secondary students, current classified staff and other career changers, Hickey said.

    Preparing the road map hasn’t been easy, Pavri said. The work group has had to clarify and streamline regulations from both the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The agencies are working together to develop a joint approval process that will be informed by the work group and by pilot programs expected to begin next school year.

    San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and the Bay Area have been identified as potential pilot locations, according to Hickey.

    The work group is also trying to identify a sponsor for the state program from a university, county office of education or state agency, or a consortium of partners, Pavri arvi said.

    “Without adequate funding, it’s going to be really hard to ask for existing staff to take on these responsibilities,” Pavri said. “So, we’ve been trying to figure out what the roles and responsibilities for each of these entities are, and what kinds of funding would be available to administer the program.”

    Funding for teacher recruitment drying up

    California has spent more than $1.2 billion since 2016 to address teacher shortages, including $170 million for the California Classified School Employee Credentialing program, which also helps school staff to earn a degree and teaching credential. But budget shortfalls have state leaders looking for other sources of funding to grow the teacher workforce and to help teacher candidates to get paid while they learn, Pavri said.

    Registered apprenticeship programs receive federal funding through the Department of Labor.

    “Here in California, there have been recent incredible state investments for us to grow and diversify our teacher workforce,” Pavri said. “But all of these funds are one-time legislative appropriations. And then we’re also concerned about the health of the state budget and whether these appropriations would be renewed.”

  • 02/02/2024 12:44 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    Gov. Newsom’s budget proposal calls for expanding arts ed pathway



    JANUARY 29, 2024

    Jazzing up the classroom with music

    February 1, 2024 - Guillermo Tejeda is a jazz musician who is passionate about teaching and integrating music into the classroom.


    Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

    Faced with an ongoing teacher shortage, many California arts education advocates have been championing the use of career technical education (CTE) to attract new arts teachers to help fulfill the state’s historic arts mandate. The sticking point has been that the credential has only been applied to secondary classrooms, leaving elementary students out. 

    That may change if Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial 2024-25 state budget becomes law. This proposal, subject to change in May, when the numbers are revised in response to shifting economic conditions and policy issues, calls for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to create a new Elementary Arts and Music Education pathway for career technical education teachers. This expansion would allow more working artists to share their expertise with California students, a move many arts advocates praise.

    “Newsom is paving the way for a more vibrant and well-rounded educational experience, fostering creativity and skill development at every stage,” said Allison Gamlen, visual and performing arts coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Education. “Empowering CTE teachers with the ability to bring their expertise to elementary classrooms is a positive step that will enrich the artistic learning experience for young students.”

    Expanding this credential into elementary schools might help recruit working artists, from musicians to animators, who are passionate about their craft into the school system, which is struggling to find staff in the wake of the pandemic.

    “It’s really exciting,” said Austin Beutner, the former superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, who authored Proposition 28. He said the governor’s direction to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing about expanding the career technical education pathways for arts educators to include elementary schools “will help all 6 million children in public schools across California benefit from the additional funding Prop. 28 provides for arts education.”

    While many arts advocates are excited, some also caution patience, given the exhaustive nature of the bureaucratic process. The budget may well undergo significant changes during the May revision, for example.

    “Teaching artists will now have another pathway into employment at schools to meet the needs of Prop. 28,” said Eric Engdahl, professor emeritus at CSU East Bay and past president of the California Council on Teacher Education. But “knowing how state bureaucracies work and the laws that govern their actions, I don’t think this will produce any new teachers for at least two years, quite possibly more.”

    One key concern has been whether artists have sufficient knowledge of best practices for younger children. Some are concerned that teaching third graders requires a different skill set than eighth graders, for instance. 

    “Elementary has different foundational considerations, including meeting young students’ developmental and reading needs,” said Letty Kraus, director of the California county superintendents’ statewide arts initiative. “The developmental piece is an important one.”

    Kraus believes the state should solve the staffing problem by widening the existing arts educator pipeline. 

    “Rather than push CTE down into elementary, I think it is important to look at our existing credentialing system and consider how to increase statewide access to credentialing pathways, including virtual,” she said, “and also how to remove financial barriers and support credential candidates while they complete their student teaching.”

    Some arts education experts warn that teaching a subject is not the same as practicing it.

    “I am concerned about having CTE teachers teaching a core subject like arts, math and science —mastering a subject doesn’t mean you can teach it,” said Abe Flores, deputy director of policy and programs at Create CA, an advocacy group. “I know how to read, but it doesn’t mean I can adequately teach a student to read.”

    Others say that the new credential should require adequate training in child development as well as pedagogical concerns.

    “Since it is now in the CTC’s court, they will have to create a pathway that ensures preparedness,” said Engdahl. “A CTE credential requires classes in addition to industry experience, and the CTC should be looking at those classes closely.”

    Engdahl has confidence that aspiring arts educators will apply due diligence to their professional development. 

    “As for teacher preparedness, I am not really too concerned. When I was a teaching artist, and having worked with teaching artists for many years, I have noticed that their classroom preparedness is generally excellent.”

    However, classrooms today are not what they were before the pandemic, and many children are coping with mental health issues as well as learning loss. That raises the stakes for all new teachers, Engdahl notes, not just arts educators.

    “If there is an area of concern, it is in the changes in schools after Covid,” said Engdahl. “Students and schools are different now, and it is more challenging helping students to heal and learn.”

    This urgency to adapt to shifting school needs is one reason Beutner believes change is called for.

    “You have to meet the students where they are,” said Beutner. “You also have to meet the aspiring teachers where they are.”

  • 01/17/2024 10:47 AM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)


    California needs to do more to ensure teachers can teach kids to read, national study says



    JANUARY 16, 2024

    Melissa Ramirez, a first grade teacher at Lockeford Elementary in Lodi, holds up a flashcard while students say and spell the word 'water.'

    Credit: Andrew Reed / EdSource

    Despite a newfound national focus on the science of reading, states, including California, aren’t doing enough to support and train teachers to effectively teach literacy, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality

    Thirty-two states have passed laws or implemented policies related to evidence-based reading instruction in the last decade. Despite that, nearly every state could do more to support literacy instruction, according to the report, “Five Policy Actions to Strengthen Implementation of the Science of Reading.

    “While states are rightly prioritizing literacy, they are not focusing enough attention on teacher effectiveness and teacher capacity to teach reading aligned to the science,” council President Heather Peske told EdSource. “If these efforts are to succeed … the state needs to ensure that teachers are prepared and supported from the time that they are in teacher preparation programs to the time that they enter classrooms.”

    The report rated states as strong, moderate, weak or unacceptable, based on whether they have policies to ensure students receive science-based reading instruction that includes teaching them to sound out words, a process known as phonics. Only 12 states, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia, were rated as strong.

    California received a moderate rating.

    The state gets high marks for setting reading standards for teacher preparation programs, adopting a strong reading licensure test for teachers, and requiring districts to select high-quality reading curricula. California scored lower on whether it requires ongoing literacy training for teachers and on its oversight of teacher preparation programs to ensure they are teaching the science of reading.

    Not all teachers are trained in the science of reading

    While California provides funds to school districts to offer literacy training to teachers, it does not require all elementary school teachers to be trained in the science of reading, as other states do, Peske said, adding that without proper training, teachers often flounder when teaching literacy, despite having access to high-quality instructional materials.

    Effective teaching is critical to improving students’ reading skills. More than 90% of students would learn to read with effective reading instruction, according to the report.

    About 40% of students entering fourth grade in the United States can read at a basic level, according to the research. The latest California test scores show fewer than half of the students who were tested were proficient in reading. These results have not changed much in the past decade. 

    “Why do we see staggering numbers of children, especially children of color and from low-income backgrounds, without fundamental literacy skills? said Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust. “Because in many districts and schools nationwide, outdated teaching methods and curricula that have been proven ineffective, and even harmful, are still being used.” 

    The report comes as California and other states are renewing their focus on the science of reading, which is based on over 50 years of research that provides a clear picture of how effective literacy instruction can produce a skilled reader, Peske said. 

    Only two of the 41 teacher preparation programs reviewed in California adequately cover all five components of the science of reading, according to the report. The five components include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

    California puts renewed emphasis on reading

    But that could change soon. By July 1, California will require teacher preparation programs to provide literacy training based on the science of reading and the state’s new literacy standards. The new standards include support for struggling readers, English learners and pupils with exceptional needs, incorporating dyslexia guidelines for the first time.

    The state is also eliminating the unpopular Reading Instruction Competence Assessment in 2025. It will be replaced with a performance assessment based on literacy standards and a new set of Teaching Performance Expectations.

    “This latest set of standards and TPEs are probably the strongest statements we’ve had about reading and literacy in teacher preparation,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “We are going gangbusters to get them in the field.”

    More than half of the states use outside accreditors to review teacher preparation programs, which researchers say is not ideal. The report includes California as one of those states, but Sandy says that is not the case. Teacher preparation programs in California must be reviewed every seven years by a commission-approved institutional review board made up of university faculty and practitioners across all credential areas, Sandy said. Members are trained on the standards, or have a background or credential in the subject being reviewed, she said.

    Teacher preparation programs that want a national accreditation can choose to use an outside accreditor, but it is not required for state accreditation, Sandy said.

    California should also include data it collects on teacher pass rates on the state reading licensure test as part of the review of teacher preparation programs, Peske said.

    California’s changes to teacher preparation and emphasis on the science of reading were taken into consideration by National Council on Teacher Quality’s researchers when evaluating the state, Peske said. The research was also sent to the California Department of Education at least twice for review. No one at the department said the research was in error, according to the council.

    The council has provided a guide to help states implement and sustain strong reading instruction.

    “Helping all children learn to read is possible when you have teachers who’ve been prepared in the science of reading,” Peske said. “Much like an orchestra needs each section of instruments to come together to successfully create music, states need to implement multiple teacher-focused reading policies that work together to improve student outcomes.”

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