GUSTINE - The Gustine Unified School District will continue its focus on improvement in 2020.

Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, said that campaign will be multi-faceted and include increased professional opportunities for teachers and administrators alike as well as initiatives to build basic skills among students.

Facilities will also be a topic of discussion in 2020, Ballenger noted. The district is looking forward to completion of the middle school gymnasium early in the year, he said, but must also begin mapping out strategies to meet future facility needs.

Staff development will be one priority during the current calendar year.

Ballenger said that the district is planning to establish a “Teachers Teaching Teachers” initiative which he anticipates will be in place for the 2020-21 school year.

“The model is designed to take what expertise you already have in the district and carry that forward to teach others,” Ballenger said. “When teachers are doing professional development with other teachers, they are more apt to implement that.

“This is about their professional development. It is about our teachers growing. That doesn’t mean you have to go to institutes or professional development out of the district,” he added.

Ballenger said the success of the instructional coach program implemented by the district this year is testament to the power of peer support and relationships within teaching ranks.

“They are extremely valued,” he said of the two designated academic coaches. “I expected push back about having (other) teachers in the classroom for the first time, but we have not had any. After watching how hard they are working and the number of people they are working with I would like to add one or two so that every campus has an instructional coach, and we are going to ask them to help run Teachers Teaching Teachers.”

Professional development is not limited to the classroom, Ballenger noted, as the district hopes to provide its principals with leadership training this spring.

“Our kids deserve the best leadership possible,” he emphasized.

Ballenger said that the district is also working on a literacy initiative which will start next year, with a particular focus on K-5 grade levels. Toward that end, he added, the district is partnering with Le Grand to bring in a specialist who will conduct an in-house literacy institute over the summer. Coaching support for teachers would follow throughout the school year.

“I want that implemented at the start of the next year so that we have a K-5 literacy program which includes a writing element, which we currently don’t have,” Ballenger commented.

Even as it develops a literacy initiative, the district will continue a three-year math initiative which started this year. Ballenger said that program includes 21 days of support from a consultant who does both individual classroom and group sessions.

During the coming year, Ballenger told Mattos Newspapers, the district also hopes to implement a take-home program for devices assigned to Gustine High students, look at options for implementing character education and digital citizenship programs for students, and evaluate its special education programs offered outside the district to determine the feasibility of bringing those courses in-house.

Facilities will be a topic of conversation as well.

When the Gustine Middle School gym is completed the school board will have conversations about how to best use remaining bond money, Ballenger said.

District administration and the board will also begin crafting a strategic plan for the future.

“We are full in classrooms. We have no available classrooms at Gustine Middle School, Gustine Elementary and Gustine High School. We need to address that, especially if we are going to start growing,” Ballenger commented.

He said the district must establish a facilities plan by the end of the calendar year.

“By March, we will have the conversation about how we move forward,” Ballenger noted.