2012-07-20 / Schools

Preparing for a new era of education

MUSD director to implement curriculum change
By Darleen Principe darleen@theacorn.com


PROMOTED—Donna Welch, formerly the principal of Peach Hill Academy, was recently named the director of elementary education and special programs at Moorpark Uni*ed School District. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers PROMOTED—Donna Welch, formerly the principal of Peach Hill Academy, was recently named the director of elementary education and special programs at Moorpark Uni*ed School District. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Donna Welch has a huge job ahead of her.

As the Moorpark Unified School District’s new director of elementary education and special programs, part of her job in the next two years will be to ensure the district’s teachers and students are ready to meet a brand new set of rigorous educational standards.

Under recent state legislation, school districts across California will be required to fully implement the new Common Core State Standards by 2014, which aim to deepen students’ understanding of English-language arts and math.

The new standards also emphasize 21st century learning methods, which include using more project-based programs and technology.

For teachers in Moorpark and across the state, it means changing curriculums, many hours of additional training, and getting used to a whole new set of testing standards and assessments.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Welch said. “But I think here in Moorpark our teachers are going to find we’ve been doing a lot of things right. We already do have rigorous standards. Some things are just going to be tightened a little bit and go up a notch.”

Although the weight of the new standards will be on the shoulders of all Moorpark’s teachers and administrators, Welch’s task is to make sure they have everything they need to implement the plan.

“Some of the biggest challenges will be finding the time for the teachers to meet together and train—to unwrap those standards and figure out exactly what they mean; then, finding the materials,” Welch said. “With the budget crunch, buying new materials is not what we see on the horizon.”

In order to be successful in the midst of dwindling resources, Welch and her curriculum team will have to get creative.

“We’ve already started,” she said. “We’ve already put together a timeline. We have a master plan, if you will. Now, I just have to find ways to make it happen.”

Big leaps

Welch, a 25-year Moorpark resident, began her career with MUSD as a first grade teacher at Campus Canyon Elementary School in 1990.

During the latter part of her 11-year tenure at Campus Canyon, she also served as a teacher on special assignment, where she helped align the school’s curriculum with that era’s set of state standards.

In 2001, Welch was then named principal of Peach Hill School, which was later renamed Peach Hill Academy.

Under her leadership, Peach Hill adopted a “core knowledge” curriculum, which places an emphasis on basic knowledge in all subjects, including language arts, math, science, geography, history and science.

As principal, Welch helped transform Peach Hill from a “Program Improvement” status school to a California Distinguished School within a span of two years.

“I knew how hard the teachers were working, yet it wasn’t showing up in the test scores,” Welch said. “So I really started taking a closer look. I found that at the time, what we were missing was that our Englishlanguage learners were not making the gains we were hoping for.”

To fix the problem, Welch implemented a “targeted learning time” for the students who were falling behind.

“Through that, we were able to give each student exactly what they needed,” she said.

By 2003, Welch had led Peach Hill in gaining the largest point growth in the Academic Performance Index (API) in Ventura County.

“When I first started at Peach Hill, the idea was to help children who needed extra support,” she said. “But over the years it grew so that during that one hour of targeted learning time, a child can receive any extra support in just about anything.

“Even the children working above standards use that time to have enrichment.”

The next step

Welch, who earned her teaching credentials from California Lutheran University and a master’s degree in education administration from Azusa Pacifi c University, started her new chapter as a district director on July 1.

Besides overseeing elementary education and curriculum, Welch will also handle the district’s grant programs, a responsibility previously held by recently retired grant director Marilyn Green.

“I feel very honored,” Welch said. “Marilyn Green is a person that I think everyone in our district admires. I have some very big shoes to fill. As honored as I feel, I’m a little scared. But I have admired her for years and I just hope I can hold up the same standards that she has.”

In her new position, Welch will oversee the district’s active special programs, such as the Teaching American History grant, the Physical Education Program (PEP) grant and the magnet school programs.

“The district has some wonderful grants that we’ve been awarded,” Welch said. “I hope to continue that tradition and keep up those special programs.”

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