When first-year teacher Cassidy Kitcheyan finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of her job, she knows help is just an e-mail away.
The Haskell Indian Nations University graduate is a first-grade teacher at Hillcrest School, and she relies on the help of the Lawrence school district's learning coach program. The program is an initiative launched this year to assist teachers - rookies and veterans - in professional development.
"They definitely are a big part of my new career not being so hectic," Kitcheyan, 23, said. "I don't feel so crazy as I thought I would. In a way, they are lifesavers, along with my mentor."
Kim Bodensteiner, the district's chief academic officer, said the 16 learning coaches provide teachers a way to work through problems and come up with solutions.
It creates a "ripple effect," according to Ron Swall, a learning coach at Free State High School, who is working with social studies teachers on how to improve students' note-taking skills. He said learning coaches also are helping teachers improve their students' standardized test scores, which must continually improve to meet federal requirements.
"We're getting to a point where our pretty good job isn't good enough, based on the standards of the federal government," he said.
So far, the professional development program, which is used in all of the elementary, secondary and high schools, has been well received.
"The anecdotal data coming back to me is that (teachers) feel that this supports them and their efforts to meet the students' needs," said Angelique Kobler, the district's director of instructional services.
"Any time I need them, I can count on them," Kitcheyan said. "Everything I didn't learn in college, they're there to help me. No question is too simple."
The district culls its learning coaches largely from its own ranks. Kobler said learning coaches must have at least 10 years of teaching experience and demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom. They span a long list of disciplines, including psychology, technology, early childhood education and curriculum instruction.
Kobler said she was looking for a "deep team," using a baseball analogy to illustrate the point.
"We don't want a team of all pitchers because we would have a shallow base of knowledge," she said.
The district has used veteran teachers as coaches in the past, but an increase in requests for help in elementary and secondary schools pushed district leaders to officially implement the learning coaches program. It looked at similar programs in the state's 10 largest school districts and national models.
"We didn't single out a model," Bodensteiner said. "We took strengths from different programs and tailored it to the needs of the buildings."
'Business is good'
Kristen Ryan, a learning coach based at Pinckney School, said teachers who can confidentially request help are flocking to the service.
"Business is good. There's definitely a need," said Ryan, who joined the Lawrence district this year after 12 years as an educator, most recently in Clay Center. Though based at Pinckney, Ryan also lends a hand to teachers at Hillcrest and Woodlawn schools.
Ryan said she meets often with teachers. The consultations are between five and 45 minutes.
Swall sees his job as a support system for teachers who are burdened with large classes and little downtime. He said FSHS learning coaches are helping teachers crunch data to help them meet goals related to No Child Left Behind.
"Teachers have an incredible load every day. When teachers are seeing 120, 140, 160 kids all day long, it's really difficult to sit down and take time and figure all that out," he said.
A team of coaches who specialize in literacy serve New York, Woodlawn, Hillcrest and Kennedy schools, but funding for the $200,000 literacy program is set to run out at the end of the school year.
Still, Bodensteiner said the district sees this as a long-term program.
"Unless we get grant dollars, we will not be able to keep all of those positions. We will continue to look at ways to have additional coaching in those particular schools," she said.