Katy Independent School District: Professional Learning Platforms for a Large Suburban District

Katy ISD is the second fastest growing district in the state of Texas, which presents challenges for offering high-quality professional development opportunities for all special education staff members that is effective and provides a consistent message of district expectations for student achievement and individual growth. Katy ISD embarked on a mission to provide multiple platforms for professional development for teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators. This article delves into some of the different ways that we meet our adult learner needs.

Brian Malechuk & Kathryn WilliamsThe Katy Independent School District (ISD) is the eighth largest district in suburban Houston, Texas. The overall district population is approximately 77,000 students with 10%, or around 7,700 students served in special education programs. Katy ISD is the second fastest growing district in the state of Texas, which presents challenges for offering high-quality professional development opportunities for all special education staff members that is effective and provides a consistent message of district expectations for student achievement and individual growth. 

To that end, Katy ISD embarked on a mission to provide multiple platforms for professional development for teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators. This article delves into some of the different ways that we meet our adult learner needs starting with the traditional face-to-face learning opportunities that typically occur during early release days and district professional development days. With the largest percentage of our students in special education receiving instruction in the general education classroom, the special education department has partnered with the various general education support groups to deliver joint professional development as opposed to separating general education teachers from special education teachers during training. A perfect example of this partnership is the Katy ISD Algebra Institute. This professional development institute was developed to support an ongoing need to support Algebra teachers. During the institute, our special education specialists worked alongside the general education team to design and deliver the content that infused strategies and supports to address the unique needs of students with disabilities. Another example happens on early release professional development days, when paraprofessionals from across the district are invited to attend a station training where they rotate through a 20-minute session on data collection followed by a 20-minute session on instructional strategies and accommodations and ending with a session on behavioral supports for students in the classroom. The goal is to present a united front within the district so that all of our students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum and all teachers are supporting this goal. This partnership is developing a support system that meets the needs of all students and levels the playing field.

One key to effective professional development is the ability to communicate with peers and have access to training. Such access and communication from and within the Special Education Department is key, but complicated. Katy ISD has an annual projected student enrollment growth of approximately 2,700 students. The district hires several hundred new teachers each school year. Katy ISD geographically spans over one hundred and eighty square miles and includes forty elementary schools, fifteen junior high schools and eight comprehensive high schools; therefore, being able to share special education information consistently and equitably across the district can be a daunting task. The Special Education Department utilizes a technology tool called Padlet, which allows us to house all new teacher training tools in one location. Padlet also enables new teachers to post questions and obtain feedback from our special education staff. All new teachers have access to Padlet and they can read and review responses from each other and learn together. The Special Education Department also uses Wikis to provide information to staff members. Our WIKIs include a wealth of information for teachers and administrators, including academic and behavioral support resources, meeting agendas, and meeting notes.

padlet example

We have also developed online courses in Canvas specific to different stakeholder groups. This allows for consistency among all stakeholders, which is critically important in a fast growth district like Katy ISD. Courses have been developed so that general education teachers have access to resources to assist special education students in accessing the general education curriculum. The Special Education Department has also developed Collaborative Teaching modules in Canvas to assist with collaborative teaching efforts on the campuses.

In addition, the Special Education staff delivers face-to-face trainings with Trainer of Trainer (TOT) teams including an administrator, instructional coach, special education teacher and ESL representative. These TOT teams receive training and return to their campuses to train their staff utilizing the Canvas course modules. There is also a section built into the Canvas modules where staff can reflect and evaluate practices of the teams through Professional Learning Communities as well as collaborate with other campus teams through a discussion board.

We have also used various technologies to support our professional development efforts. The Special Education Department has developed a Google App that allows staff to provide individual, small group and campus-wide support by documenting directly in the app. This documentation is then immediately sent to the campus principal to provide them with real time feedback. The app allows the campus administrators to be informed of specific services provided by special education staff members while on the campus. The Google App also translates into a master document that allows the district administrative team to track patterns and trends across all campuses within the district. Another technology tool that Katy ISD utilizes is Adobe Connect. As a result of the large geographical size of the district, conducting monthly Department Chair meetings can be a challenge. Therefore, the special education staff delivers monthly Department Chair meetings through Adobe Connect, which allows users to share screens and audio as well as upload multiple files for viewing and reference. Adobe Connect also allows individuals the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters that can be recorded and archived for later use.

There is no doubt that every district faces challenges in delivering high quality, consistent professional development and information for special education staff. The tools that have been highlighted in this article provide school districts with options to deliver high quality professional development in multiple formats. If you have questions about any of the tools or how they are used in Katy ISD, please contact Dr. Brian Malechuk, Executive Director of Special Education, at brianemalechuk@katyisd.org or 281-396-2630 for additional information.