The evaluation was echoed by other educators attending the 10-day workshop offered by DSD, which wrapped up last week.
Participants were selected from applications submitted as a team of same-level teachers in a school and on their principal's recommendation.
They commit to attend all class sessions, produce a reflective portfolio, design a curriculum unit and participate in follow-up activities with their schools and peers.
The academy is a spin-off of one offered by the state for the past three or four years. When federal funding dried up for that program, Rebecca Anderson who headed the state project, selected districts that might be able to implement the program and invited them to pilot it.
DSD took the challenge and preliminary results are encouraging.
The mission of the state and district programs is to help instructors streamline their efforts with cross-curriculum teaching. The goal was to integrate similar information taught in one class with matching information taught in another, giving students double the exposure for intertwining information.
"For example, if an English teacher taught 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' in the fall and a history teacher taught WWII in the spring, it would make sense to synchronize their efforts," said Ann Adams, Ph.D. director of staff development for the district.
The Teachers Academy supports professional development by 1) helping teachers develop competency in a specific area and 2) improving school and staff development plans which can then hit the gaps in student development and learning.
"It's a process to bolster both the student and the school," said Adams.
In Friday's wrap-up session, participants lauded the benefits they had received from the program. Many felt the reading strategies offered would help make all levels of reading more equal in the classroom.
According to attendees, the thing that separated this conference from others they had attended was that it was taught by real teachers--people who were "in the trenches" with them--and who knew their material inside out; they'd been there.
One teacher confessed that he still didn't like the Grey Book reading program, wasn't convinced that it was the most efficient program, but now that he understood how to better use it, he could see that it was a better program than he realized.
Participants then presented the curriculum unit to their peers with innovative and interactive segments, using a variety of learning tools and styles as well as humor.
The $90,000 budget allowed three district professionals and a host of guest speakers to lecture and work in small breakout sessions while still providing participants with a $1,000 stipend each.
DSD hopes to offer the much-coveted spots in the academy to new teams of educators next year.