For this edition of the SCOOP, we sat down with Marla Silversmith, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, to discuss her background as well as several of her current projects. BCE donor survey results showed significant support for both Professional Development & STEAM Curriculum so Marla described district offerings in these areas.
Assistant Superintendent Marla Silversmith begins by sharing, “This past year, we focused on how a teacher connects with a class whether in virtual, asynchronous, concurrent, or in-person learning. How do we build student-teacher relationships and support the social emotional component in particular? How do we have kids begin to build relationships with each other in each model? Our professional learnings shifted to focus on providing tools to answer these questions.” For the rest of this piece, we’ve adapted our interview with Marla to offer a summary of the district’s professional development programs.
Following the halting of in-person school in California on March 13, 2020, what so many thought would be a short-term situation turned into a longer term reality. Faced with many challenges, teachers and staff needed new learning tools for their students. In response to remote learning, Burlingame School District (BSD) modified its entire professional development plan for the academic year 2020-21 and partnered with the Burlingame Education Association to support teachers on delivering content in a new and uncertain environment. Not only did the district facilitate learning for teachers returning to the classroom, but administrators also provided a thorough introduction of new tools to allow teachers to best deliver distance learning. The district’s concurrent teaching model, internally developed by principals and teachers to balance “Roomers” (students physically in the classroom) and “Zoomers” (students continuing with distance learning) offers a great example of a new teaching technique. Headsets, additional cameras and monitors, and elevated desks beside the teachers provide support to connect teachers, Roomers and Zoomers, and professional development sessions sought to resolve issues such as whether a Zoomer would be able to hear a Roomer while distance learning from home. After continuous improvement over recent months, we see this model being utilized now that much of BSD has transitioned to the hybrid system
Other professional development topics have focused on equity issues in both classrooms as well as curriculum. These trainings include how to respectfully celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, teach African American history, and how to build connections with students of color given the district’s majority non-white student body. In addition, past and ongoing professional development around a STEAM curriculum emphasizes an integrated approach whereby STEAM offerings are woven across and throughout subjects rather than introduced as stand-alone concepts.
Many of these topics require essential ongoing learning, so Marla pioneered supplemental weekly workshops known as Thirsty For Knowledge Thursdays. These online one and a half hour weekly after-school sessions deliver content on timely topics such as “Best Practices for Utilizing Clever” for BSD teachers and staff. Marla’s office records all professional learning sessions and has built out a library with the recordings, so anyone on staff can access instruction on a particular topic.
Another important aspect of professional development is the delivery of curriculum updates. The district is currently undergoing a curriculum review of several core subjects, so professional development leading into the fall of 2021 will focus on new curriculum adoption. The adoption committees consist of teachers, administrators, and community members. Currently, Ms. Silversmith is seeking parents interested in joining the math adoption committee which will commence in the 21/22 school year. For parents interested in participating, please contact Marla Silversmith.
Beyond the Thursday sessions for the second year in a row, the district hosts Wellness Wednesdays, which are a significant benefit to staff. The district’s mental health team, composed of school psychologists, a mental health clinician, and counselors, many of whom are supported by BCE, provide weekly after-school workshops focused on student self care and self regulation. Shared ideas and techniques extend into the classroom to support and enhance the student experience. Topics help teachers and staff to learn tools for maintaining health and balance and offer ideas for how to support students who are frustrated, angry, sad, or perhaps upset by what they may see in the news. These mental health tools benefit every child in our district and include the adoption of programs such as Second Step, Mind Yeti and Kimochi, meant to nurture and develop the whole child. To further explain the benefits of BSD’s mental health staff and programming, Marla shares “Our job is to make the citizens of the future, and our citizens aren't just academic, they're also worldly. They're diverse; they're thinking about others. These are a lot of the lessons students learn through our Second Step and mental health curriculum that benefits both themselves as well as society overall.”
Marla grew up in Sacramento, California and has an older sister with Down Syndrome, so her passion for equity began at birth. She and her husband Jeff met in college and while he is originally from New York City, he spent his middle and high school years in Pleasanton. Jeff had wanted to raise his own children there, so they now live in Pleasanton with their two daughters, Ava (16) and Peyton (14), and their son, Rylan (12), all of whom are Dual Language immersion students in the East Bay. Marla began her teaching career in Pleasanton and holds a multi-subject credential (she has four credentials!) with a career focus on special education. She has taught all grades from elementary through high school, and was recognized as Teacher of the Year in Pleasanton and by Alameda County. Ultimately, Marla took on a Director role there, before being recruited into the role of Assistant Superintendent of Burlingame School District, where she is thrilled to have a chance to make a big impact on the quality of education for Burlingame’s students.
by Amy Sukumar based on February 2021 interview with
Marla Silversmith, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services