Peer Assistance and Review Program Celebrates 10th Year in SCSD

     Published on 7/8/16   Tagged under:    District News    Corcoran High School    Nottingham High School    Westside Academy at Blodgett   

Ten years ago, teachers new to the SCSD were left largely to figure out their new position on their own. Thanks to the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program, governed by the PAR Panel (five appointed union representatives named by the Syracuse Teachers Association and four appointed management representatives named by Superintendent Contreras), since December of 2005, first time teachers and new-to-the-SCSD teachers now have a built-in support system.
Now, a team of seven Consultant Teachers each works with first year (or first year in the SCSD) teachers. The Consultant Teacher positions run for three years and involve visiting each teacher’s classroom an average of one to three times a week, as well as providing support and suggestions through phone calls and meetings outside of the normal school day.
Richard Romeo, Social Studies teacher at Corcoran, is now a second year teacher. He said that having the help of a PAR consultant during his first year of teaching was a game changer.

“My PAR evaluator spent hours and hours helping me get folders together, going over lesson plans, suggesting strategies to differentiate with such a diverse population and more,” he said. “Having someone to consult with about your teaching helps immensely. I feel like I have a couple of extra years of experience because of my experience in the PAR program. I learned so much more than most first year teachers would learn on their own!”
For Westside Academy at Blodgett teacher Stan McKay, the profession was already familiar to him, after holding a teaching job in Texas where he was named Teacher of the Year in 2013-14. Even so, he said PAR was invaluable.
“The program was very helpful for me even though I had already taught at another district,” Mr. McKay said. “My consulting teacher was very supportive. She offered feedback, she was available at all hours and she advocated for me. It was helpful to have her as support as I was trying to learn the culture of Syracuse.”
Mr. McKay noted that the professional relationship he developed with his Consultant Teacher over the course of the PAR program will continue long after the initial year of partnership ended. Even after the PAR obligations were fulfilled, he said, his Consultant Teacher came back to his classroom a few times to help him implement a blended learning model.
Nottingham Special Education teacher Kaitlyn Mullahey had some knowledge of her school prior to becoming a teacher, due to her Master’s program’s assigning her there for a semester. Even so, the transition would have been difficult without the PAR program, she said.
“I had some familiarity with the school, but having your own classroom is a whole new experience,” Ms. Mullahey explained. “Our PAR was amazing at taking the knowledge we already had, meeting us where we were, and she helped us with things we weren’t familiar with. I believe really good leadership comes from people who have done the job themselves, and that was PAR is. They have lived the life of a teacher in this District and can help you from that perspective.”
That teacher perspective is exactly why Sara Montgomery-Lee became a Consultant Teacher in the program’s second year. A Fowler graduate, Ms. Montgomery-Lee taught math at her alma mater for 18 years.
“I love teaching, and I love Fowler,” she said. “But working with these new teachers is the highlight of my career. You get to see them grow, and you get to see the ‘aha’ moment when the lightbulb goes off for them. Teachers think they know what they’re getting into when they start teaching in the District, but this program allows us to be with them as they learn and mature into really strong teachers.”
Ms. Montgomery-Lee mentioned her personal measure of the program’s true success: some of the ‘new’ SCSD teachers she worked with nine years ago when she joined PAR are now teacher leaders themselves!
“This program helps the new teachers see that we’re not here to criticize them and we’re not out to get them—we just want to help them see where they can improve and be their best,” she added. “If we want to see this profession grow and stay strong, we really need to support our teachers.”
Anne Witz taught for 21 years at Nottingham before starting her first year in Peer Assistance Review this year. After hearing from first-year teachers about the ways the program was benefitting them, Ms. Witz knew she had to get involved.
“We observe their classrooms, listen to their struggles, make recommendations and give insight,” she explained. “It’s been a fabulous learning experience for all of us. It really is powerful to see certain teachers who are on the edge of not being able to make it realizing what is needed to succeed and doing it. They know they’re not alone, and that’s how you know the program is really working.”
Thank you to all of the Consultant Teachers (current and former) who are taking (and have taken) the time to help support first year teachers and new-to-the-SCSD teachers!