When we think of “students” we usually picture “children.”
But a team at the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is having to rethink what that term means while working with educators in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
The CDCR contracted with SDCOE and the Placer and Fresno county offices of education (COEs) to create and support professional learning communities at each of the 35 state correctional facilities.
A professional learning community (PLC) brings educators at a site together in their thinking, planning, and teaching to strengthen their practice and better support students.
“Students” in this case are incarcerated individuals at the correctional facilities.
“We try not to call them prisoners or inmates, but instead, ‘students,’” explained Executive Leadership Coach Ross Godfrey. “When they’re in school, they’re students, regardless of the circumstances that led them to be incarcerated.”
Godfrey is leading the work at SDCOE with Dr. Erin Dare, Jessica Rapp-McCreary, and Julia Bridi, of the District and School Improvement department in LLS. His team meets with Placer and Fresno COEs to determine scope and sequence, and then the COE teams split up to work with their regional CDCR groups.
From February through December, SDCOE will meet monthly with 65 to 85 education team members representing 11 different correctional facilities in Southern California. There are about 200 CDCR team members involved across the state. The goal is for these teams to learn the basics and benefits of PLCs and bring that learning back to their sites to better support their students, Godfrey explained.
“The priority is to ensure equity, that all students have equitable opportunities to learn,” he said. CDCR had self-identified variability between teachers and sites and across the system of what’s taught, when, and how it’s taught, which means students were getting different experiences and levels of success.
“We’re invested in doing this work because we have expertise through our own Juvenile Court and Community Schools and our students who are in juvenile facilities or on probation, and we know educational equity doesn’t stop when a child turns 18,” said Dr. Paul Gothold, county superintendent of schools. “This effort can help us identify ways we can do better now, so our own students can succeed and thrive.”
According to its website, as part of CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs, the Office of Correctional Education (OCE) offers various academic and education programs at each of California’s adult state prisons. The goal of OCE is to provide offenders with needed education and career training as part of a broader CDCR effort to increase public safety and reduce recidivism.
“There are a lot of barriers to education in a state prison, things like transfers between facilities, medical concerns, English as a second language, the pandemic. What we want to do is get these educators to a place where they can collaborate and feel they can do the best job they can despite all the roadblocks,” Godfrey said.
The PLC focuses on what’s being learned versus what’s being taught. It helps educators come together and answer the questions: how do you know when students have learned the content, how do you respond if they already know the information, and what to do if they don’t learn. PLCs also review the current curriculum and figure out what needs to be learned so the students can be successful in the next course. Godfrey said the SDCOE Equity department was also helping the teams to incorporate culturally relevant concepts that students can connect with.
"The most impactful thing is it really makes me feel proud of our organization, that we're able to support teachers who many times don't get the support they need. We've embraced the fact that these dedicated educators deserve the best training possible to succeed in difficult situations. It's an honor to be able to do this work," Godfrey said.