COVENTRY — In response to a recent change by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in the educator certification regulations process, a group of teachers and administrators has spent countless hours over the last several months to determine just what those changes will look like in Coventry.

“This is very much about what professional development is going to look like in our district,” Don Coward, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at the Coventry Public Schools, explained to school committee members during their meeting Thursday.

Effective this month, updated regulations require that in order to renew their certificates, all Rhode Island educators must undergo a certain amount of professional learning.

“The majority of the work lands on the school department,” Cowart said, adding that it’s up to school districts to track and approve educators’ professional learning. “RIDE was really good about creating what they created, but they basically said the responsibility is shifted.”

Under the new requirements, educators must have met a number of professional learning units, or PLUs, before achieving recertification. For example, Cowart said, if a teacher or administrator completes one hour of professional development, that would earn them one PLU. Or if an educator has enrolled in a college course, each course credit would equal 15 PLUs. Completion of the National Board Certification, meanwhile, would earn 180 PLUs.

Each educator certification lasts five years. As soon as they earn certification, Cowart said, educators will begin to collect PLUs for their recertification.

“This is for everyone,” added Kelly Erinakes, president of the Coventry Teachers’ Alliance. “The superintendent has to do it, [the assistant superintendent] has to do it… it’s certification for any educator, top to bottom.”

Two committees of Coventry district staff were created and tasked with arranging a system for handling the new requirements.

One of the first steps taken by the committees, Cowart said, was to define “what high quality professional development means to us as a district.” Taking some of the language from RIDE’s new regulations, that definition was then used as a sort of “guiding vision.”

“If at any point we got stuck in the mud trying to figure out of something counts as a PLU, what we would do is reflect back on what we defined as ‘high-quality professional development,’” Cowart said.

In order to “encourage cohesive systems of professional learning,” according to RIDE, districts have been asked to create professional learning plans, which Cowart described as “simple yet guiding” documents.

“It basically says, ‘here is our plan for professional learning,’” he said.

The process, Erinakes added, also allows districts to ensure plans fit individual educators.

“We always say for kids, it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “It’s the same for teachers.”

There so far have been three voluntary meetings for district staff to go over everything, Cowart said, and at least 100 teachers and administrators have shown up for each. A couple of drop-in sessions have also taken place to ensure teachers have their verification forms filled out correctly and signed.

Cowart said there’s also in Coventry been a PLU approval and record-keeping process established. Moving forward, he said the goal is to create a system for keeping track of everything digitally.

“A lot of what we’ve built is very paper-based,” he said, adding that, though that’s OK in the interim, it won’t be feasible long-term.

Cowart added that he “truly believe[s]” Coventry is at the forefront of preparing for these updated regulations.

Erinakes echoed that. She said there are several districts where teachers are in the dark about the updated regulations.

“There are districts whose teachers have certificates expiring, like ours are in August of this year, and they have no idea that they need to submit… PLUs,” she said. “I do want to say kudos to the team for working so well together.”

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