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Creating a Successful Staff Development Program

What are the keys to a successful staff development program? This look at two award-winning programs -- at Hungerford School in Staten Island, New York, and at Montview Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado -- might provide some insight.

Ask Dr. Mary McInerney, the principal of Hungerford School in Staten Island, New York, what makes the school's staff development program successful, and she replies, "The staff. They are responsible."

Dr. McInerney credits a unique degree of staff involvement for creating the teacher development program that made Hungerford one of six schools and two school districts nationwide to be honored this year by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley as part of The National Awards Program for Model Professional Development.

It wasn't always that way. When Dr. McInerney first arrived at the school, staff development workshops were held after school, and relatively few staff members participated.

"When I came here as principal ten years ago," Dr. McInerney says, "I saw that staff workshops weren't well attended, even though the topics were very good. We asked staff members for feedback and found many had childcare responsibilities or second jobs that kept them from staying after school."


"The staff told us they wanted programs on Saturday or Sunday," Dr. McInerney continues, "so we began scheduling differently. We had full-day seminars on weekends, the staff could bring their children, we'd have a potluck lunch, and we'd even have breakfast."

The staff also became more involved in planning and even creating workshops.

"We survey the staff to see what they want to learn at workshops, then plan based on that," says Dr. McInerney. "Sometimes a staff member is an expert in a certain area, such as computers, and that person organizes and presents a workshop."

To generate further interest, the staff began having workshops off-campus as well as at the school. "We may have a meeting at a Boy Scout Camp or in a business setting. One time we had a meeting on Wall Street," Dr. McInerney explains. "We have to beg, borrow, or steal these places because it's not in our budget [to rent them]."

When scheduling workshops, the Hungerford administration goes to some length to take into account the personal lives of staff members.

"Sometimes," Dr. McInerney says, "we may do the same workshop on both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate Christian and Jewish staff members. And we avoid workshops in June because the staff has graduations and so many other special events to attend on weekends."

During the past school year, technology was the theme of many workshops, including "The Internet and You," "Introduction to Multimedia for the Classroom and for You to Use at Home," and "Intellikeys: The Smart Keyboard." Those and other computer workshops enabled the staff to better use the computers in their classroom. A workshop with a different focus, "CPR and You," was given several times and resulted in 95 percent of the Hungerford staff becoming certified in CPR.

Hungerford School serves a special needs population that includes students ages 5 to 21 diagnosed as medically fragile and severely and profoundly retarded. The school staff includes teachers and teacher aides; speech, occupational and physical therapists; guidance counselors; and administrators. A priority of the school is an annual assessment of student needs to guide the school's professional development.

Hungerford teachers have one professional development period each day. The school is designated as a Professional Development Laboratory site for its district, so the staff at Hungerford hosts staff from other schools for on-site training.

The school's emphasis on professional development has helped generate an 18 percent increase in the number of students participating in general education and a 30 percent increase in the number of students at community-based work sites. Students in general education spend time in a school for the general population, but they maintain their affiliation with Hungerford for services for their special needs. Students working at community-based work sites spend the morning at Hungerford, then go with a work/study teacher to a job site in the afternoon. Dr. McInerney emphasizes that these students do "real jobs, such as filing or building and grounds maintenance." General education and community-based work are seen as worthwhile goals for students because they put the students in touch with the "real world" and allow them to spend time with nondisabled people.


Montview Elementary School, in Aurora, Colorado, began its restructuring efforts five years ago. The school decided to focus on improving student literacy. Montview engages in site-based decision making, so teachers are integral to planning and decisions.

Teachers participate in summer learning institutes and four school-based in-service days each year. They also have time for regular observation, coaching, reflection, and dialogue. Each teacher has a weekly coaching session with a teacher leader. Each quarter, a teacher talks about the progress of his or her students with a team composed of an administrator, the teacher's peer "coach," and a team of specialists.

Montview staff members must meet the needs of a diverse and highly transient student population that includes many low-income families. Between 1995 and 1997, student scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills increased in reading, language, and math. On the Riverside Integrated Language Arts Performance Assessment, all students showed increases, and gaps between Caucasian students and both Hispanic and African-American students were virtually eliminated.


Other schools and districts recognized under the National Awards Program for Model Professional Development in 1998 are Ganado Intermediate School in Ganado, Arizona; Shallowford Falls Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia; International High School at LaGuardia College, Long Island City, New York; Geneva City Schools District, Geneva, New York; and H.D. Hilley Elementary School in El Paso and Lewisville Independent School District in Lewisville, both in Texas.

Each of the schools recognized for its teacher development program is, of course, unique. But all the model programs have one broad, underlying characteristic in common. They truly engage the staff in developing and operating the staff development program.

"It makes sense," Dr. McInerney of Hungerford School says, "to have staff members very involved in staff development workshops. We can't imagine doing it any other way."


The National Awards Program for Model Professional Development began in 1996 to honor schools and school districts with exemplary professional development programs. These models are broadly focused. Professional growth is part of their school culture. Their professional development programs address the needs of all students and ensure equity by being free of bias and accessible to all educators. Under the award program, recognition stems from how well applicants demonstrate that their professional development programs result in increased student outcomes.

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Article by Sharon Cromwell
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