What Everyone Should Know About Teacher Centers in
N
Y State   

What is a teacher center? 

It’s an opportunity for teachers to take the lead in the decision-making and implementation of staff development programs based on the needs of teachers.

 Why a teacher center?

A teacher center provides a structure for teachers to take charge of their own professional growth, a crucial element in the professionalization of teaching. It also affords teachers an opportunity of sharing with one another the great wealth of expertise which they possess. It provides a successful venue for disparate voices within the education community to join together in determining how best to provide professional development and support services.

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How did teacher centers start?

In the 1970’s, Al Shanker visited England to learn more about the concept and operations of teacher centers. This idea was successfully promoted by the AFT and the NEA, and subsequently the Federal Government developed a competitive grant program for school districts, colleges and universities to develop teacher centers. The federal regulations developed during that time established control of the planning and management of the programs with practicing classroom teachers.

In 1982, the Federal government eliminated funding to teacher centers and for several years there were no State or Federal grants available to districts. Some districts provided some funds to teacher centers to keep them operating, albeit on a significantly reduced basis. In 1984, NYSUT’s lobbying efforts were successful in getting a state law passed for the establishment and funding of Teacher Resource and Computer Training Centers (Section 316 of Education Law). Funding for 1984-85 was $3.5 million and grew to 21.5 million in 1990-91. The state did not fund teacher centers in 1991-92, but restored funding to $10 million for 1992-93. For the 2000-01 school year, the Legislature increased funding to $30 million.

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How is a teacher center governed?

A teacher center is operated by a policy board which is headed by a chairperson selected by that board. According to the law, (paragraph 7, Section 316) the policy board has the following powers and duties: 

“…policy formulation, the employment of staff or consultants, budget control and expenditure of funds to accomplish the purpose of this section, recommendations for subcontracting to secure technical and other kinds of assistance, and other appropriate managerial or supervisory activities not otherwise prohibited by state or local law or regulation of the commissioner.” 

The Local Education Agency (school district or BOCES) is the legal recipient of the funds. However, as is stated in the law, the policy board controls those funds.

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What is the makeup of the policy board? 

The policy board must, by law (paragraph 6, section 316), be made up of a majority of elementary and secondary teachers representative of teachers served by the teacher center. The teacher members are designated by the collective bargaining agent(s) of those teachers served by the center. Other members on the board are designees of the Board of Education, a parent, a representative from higher education, and individuals from the business community involved with computers.

 The policy board is the heart of the center. This is the group that communicates often with the constituencies; the teachers, the school board, parents, higher education and the business community.

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What does a teacher center director do? 

Most centers hire a director, full or part time, to implement the policies of the teacher center policy board and to operate the center on a day-by-day basis. That individual is responsible to the policy board for the conduct of his/her duties. 

Section 316, paragraph 7-a provides for the protection of the rights and benefits of any teacher from a component district taking a staff position in a center which is associated with their school district. Essentially, the center may contract with the employing district for the services of a teacher and reimburse that district for those services.

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How is the center funded? 

Much of the funding comes from the state in the form of a competitive grant, but it is not the intent for state monies to fully fund a given teacher center. Many in-kind services from the districts will contribute to the program's success and stability. The district can provide money, space, phone, custodial and/or secretarial support, and administrative assistance. Teachers are sometimes charged nominal fees for the various in-services and workshops. Donations of money, equipment or consultants fees can come from the business community, the PTA, etc. Grants from private foundations or corporations are also a possibility.

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What does a teacher center do? 

The center conducts needs assessments of the teachers and others it serves to determine their ideas on programs and services that would be of value to them. This information is reviewed, analyzed and prioritized by the policy board. A plan is then developed and the center director arranges for workshops, seminars, visitations, consultants, teacher exchanges, conferences, research studies, acquisition of equipment and supplies, resource room materials, etc. designed to implement the plan. Several teacher centers have developed new teacher training and support programs within the Mentor-Intern program to assist new teachers in their transition into professional duties. Other centers provide mini-grants for teachers to develop programs. A fundamental role of the Center is to provide support to the professional in the classroom.

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Are all teacher centers the same?

All teacher centers are not the same. They are of different sizes, capabilities, and emphasis, because each teacher center is designed around the needs of the people it serves.

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What is the relationship between the collective bargaining agent and the teacher center?

 The collective bargaining agent is responsible for designating the teachers to serve on the policy board of the center (Section 316, paragraph 6) whose responsibility it will be to represent the needs of all teachers. Teachers so designated make up the majority of the members on the board.

 It is important that a system of accountability be established by the local union president for the teacher members of the policy board so that the policies, plans and activities of the teacher center be communicated to the local leadership. In this way, staff development needs may also be addressed where appropriate through the collective bargaining process.

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The local education agency and the policy board? 

The Local Education Agency (LEA) is the applicant and recipient of the teacher center grant - they receive the money. Both the president(s) of the bargaining agent(s) and the Superintendent(s) must sign off on the application. By their signatures, these parties acknowledge and approve the application document, which must include the constitution and bylaws for the governance of the center. The signature of the superintendent also serves to attest to the support and approval of the respective board(s) of education. 

The constitution and bylaws must be drawn within the language of the Education Law, which authorizes the teacher center program. Paragraph 6 of Section 316 describes the composition of the policy board. Each center must be operated by a board:

 "...the majority of which shall be composed of elementary and secondary school teachers.... designated by the collective bargaining agent... Such board shall also include individuals designated by the school board or board of cooperative education services served by such center and at least one representative designated by the institutions of higher education... Such board shall also include one parent... and at least one representative of a business or industry that uses, produces or is involved with computers."

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What is the relationship between teacher centers and the Compact for Learning? 

There has been much discussion regarding the role of the Teacher Centers in the implementation of the Compact for Learning, the State Education Department's philosophical construct for the restructuring of our education system. 

NYSUT has had numerous discussions with the State Education Department regarding Teacher Centers and their involvement in Standards implementation. Potential changes to the law which the SED thought might be needed have also been discussed. However, the Legislature made no changes in the law. There have been no changes in the Teacher Center regulations, either. 

Teacher Centers have clearly demonstrated their willingness, ability and effectiveness in working with various constituent groups in the education community to produce quality professional development and support to classroom teachers, and increasingly to parents, board members and administrators. Teacher Centers have proven themselves to be well positioned to provide the professional development services that all parties will undoubtedly require as we move forward toward a more effective system of learning in our state. NYSUT continues to support teacher centers in their present form, and will continue to seek increased funding for them.

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