At least 85 teachers who now spend most of their time training and mentoring other teachers could move back into the classroom in a Tucson Unified School District effort to stretch resources in the face of a budget shortfall.
Last month the TUSD board voted to increase class sizes and cut 19 teaching positions as well as a yet-to-be determined number of librarians, counselors and others.
The proposal, which is being evaluated, would require personnel in "outside the classroom" positions - instructional coaches, language acquisition coaches, teacher mentors, school improvement coaches, math and literacy specialists and professional development academic trainers - to spend at least 50 percent of their day teaching.
Those teachers, who now spend most of their time working with school staff rather than students, are all required to hold valid teaching certificates. They work with classroom teachers to help them achieve common core standards, track reading and language-acquisition progress, implement internal teaching assessments and meet other state-mandated requirements.
TUSD spends about $8.7 million on instructional support, said Yousef Awwad, the district's chief financial officer. The district was unable to provide an exact number of employees whose jobs are being re-evaluated, but a TUSD employee database lists at least 85 teachers working in those support positions, with a combined salary of $3.6 million.
Depending on the level of teacher certification, the time spent in the classroom will vary. It is believed the employees will still be able to perform their existing functions should the initiative move forward, said TUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi.
"This would help us to put more personnel who are highly skilled in front of students, while maintaining their assistance to teachers," Menconi said. "Ultimately, the goal for all these positions and roles is to provide students and teachers the best available support."
The support positions are necessary and improve the level of instruction, Menconi said, but she said there may be some room for flexibility. An instructional coach certified for the elementary level may work as a reading teacher part of the day and coach teachers in reading strategies the rest of the day, for example.
TUSD Governing Board Member Mark Stegeman has been pushing for an effort like this for several years.
"I think it's good, if you're a teaching coaching, to keep your hand in the game - it improves your credibility with teachers because some of these people have been out of the classroom for years," Stegeman said.
Also, this could help principals make sure those who are responsible for coaching teachers are effective themselves.
Stegeman has questioned whether the district is spending too much on "coaching" positions.
"Over the years I have heard many teachers say that we don't get as much value as we should out of the money we spend on coaches," Stegeman said. "I think the fact that it is being considered is an implicit acknowledgment that we've been purchasing more of those services than is optimal and that some of that money can be spent on teaching."
Frances Banales, president of the Tucson Education Association teachers union, also supports the idea but said the response from staff has been mixed.
"Some are ready and willing, and others see real value in the current model," Banales said. "But this is about what we are going to do to make our district more efficient and doing something different to see greater educational gains."
Before any change is made, the district and the union are working together to have the appropriate dialogue to address any concerns, Banales said.
Menconi emphasized no decisions are final as the district works to determine what the positions are, where they are located and how they are funded.
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"This would help us to put more personnel who are highly skilled in front of students, while maintaining their assistance to teachers."
Deputy superintendent, Tucson Unified School District
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea