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$3 million grant aims to help CUSD teachers teach math better
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Julie Martin, grant writer for the Ceres Unified School District, returned from the holidays to open an email congratulating her and the district on the awarding of $3 million grant for a comprehensive math professional development program.

"It's very cool," said Martin, who has netted $33 million in grants since going to work at CUSD eight years ago.

The California Department of Education awarded the California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) grants on Dec. 22.

The grant gives CUSD $1 million each year for three consecutive years to pay for a math professional development program for those teaching fifth and sixth grade math students. The program chooses those grades, said Martin, because that's the "beginning of where math gets more difficult for students, more complicated with more complex concepts."

Only three districts statewide received the $3 million while 14 others in the state received less.

The program aims to provide instruction for 55 Ceres teachers and another 55 from other districts in the county. At the end of the grant program teachers will have received 252 hours of instruction.

"It's a very involved program," said Martin. "It brings in a lot of extra professional development."

The grant requires CUSD to partner with an institution of higher learning. The Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) is also involved. Martin said professors from California State University, Stanislaus will be used to teach teachers better approaches to math during the Ceres Summer Institute. The institute makes available 40 hours of professional development for those wanting it. In addition, teachers will receive 32 hours of lesson study training and implementation and an additional 12 hours of follow up coaching.

Teachers will receive a stipend of $2,500 for participating, said Assistant Superintendent Mary Jones.

The goals of the program are simple:

• Improve student academic achievement and grade level proficiencies in math by improving teacher subject matter knowledge and teaching strategies;

• Promote systemic change for improving math professional development among schools, districts, county office of education and university partners;

• Improve student attitudes toward math and increase their personal confidence in math and increase their perception of the usefulness of math concepts.

Martin said the program will seek to get teachers to better understand math content and math pedagogy (the theory behind teaching math).

"As the grant writer, it has been my pleasure to work with everyone involved in this project and I am very excited at the opportunities this funding brings to Ceres Unified, our partnering districts, CSUS and SCOE," said Martin.

Jones said that CUSD started this year on professional development in the area of fifth grade math.

"If you weren't a math major it could be difficult and a lot of our elementary teachers are not," said Jones. "Many have a great understanding of math. But many of our math standards have changed over the years."

She explained that content standards came into place in 1999 but that they've been "amped up."

"For example, eighth-graders are now required to take algebra so to prepare them we have to build algebra concepts in kindergarten actually."

She said educators now realize that students expose to algebra helps in their problem solving skills and that "they do better in life and better in college so now all students are required to have these higher standards in math."