They’re all teachers
District support, classified training program wins national award
By Susan Glairon
LONGMONT — Jim Berthold had trouble communicating with Spanish-speaking students. He also was rusty on keyboarding.
Since then, Berthold, 62 — one of two lead drivers for the St. Vrain Valley School District — has taken Spanish I and II, and he will continue in Spanish III in January. He also completed a keyboard course and attended a course for bus drivers to share ideas on such topics as maintaining discipline on the bus and greeting students with a friendly face.
Those courses were offered through the St. Vrain Valley School District’s staff development classes.
On Tuesday, the district will be recognized for its support staff development program when it receives the National Staff Development Council’s Shirley Havens Support and Classified Staff Development Award during the council’s national conference in Washington, D.C.
During the event, nine district representatives will be honored in front of nearly 4,000 educators. The award recognizes the growth and development of the district’s roughly 1,150 non-licensed support staff members, such as secretaries, bus drivers, health clerks, maintenance workers and managers and supervisors of those areas.
More than a dozen districts nationwide applied for the award, said Stephanie Hirsh, the council’s executive director. All American and Canadian school districts were eligible to apply, but few districts have comprehensive support staff programs, she said.
“The (St. Vrain Valley School District) realizes that every conversation is an opportunity to impact a student in a positive way,” Hirsh said.
That means bus drivers who encourage manners and enforce bus safety, friendly cafeteria workers who greet students and maintenance workers who listen to students’ problems are all important to student achievement, Hirsh said.
The award recognizes orientation and training for new hires and those who have moved into new positions, as well as ongoing training, said Helen Ryley, coordinator of St. Vrain’s classified professional development.
“The district believes that investing in its employees goes beyond simply hiring them and paying them, but also (includes) ensuring productivity, job satisfaction and long-term retention,” Ryley said.
Roughly a dozen support staff members participate in an advisory team under Ryley’s guidance, and programs were built around identified needs. Orientation and one-on-one mentor programs during paid work time help new employees and those in new positions become comfortable and confident quickly, Ryley said.
“It’s been designed based on the needs of the classified people,” she said. “That’s part of the magic of it. The team and I have worked together to design this program, and they represent the very people this program serves.”
Berthold was on the advisory team and suggested holding classes at later times and on weekends because bus drivers, custodial workers and others could not attend earlier classes.
“I always wanted to learn more,” he said. “I had problems because students didn’t understand what I was trying to do. Now I can get on the bus and can speak (Spanish) to some of the students.”
The district offers 50 to 60 enrichment classes annually, including more than 275 hours of optional training in areas such as Spanish language, computer use and leadership and management. The training is offered after work hours and costs $5 for up to 15 hours and $10 for 16 to 30 hours of instruction.
Hirsh said St. Vrain was one of the first districts nationwide to create a professional development approach based on research that showed the most effective training and mentoring practices.
Other districts trying to create support staff-development programs often contact district winners of this award, so many will be looking toward St. Vrain as a model, Hirsh said.
“This district is committed to its employees and ensuring that they have the knowledge and skills to be successful,” she said.