Bubble Gum and Tape: Dr. Novak Leverages Expertise to Fund District Gaps

As many in the community know, we have been discussing the district’s need for more instructional resources and professional development funds. One area that the district has highlighted as a “bubble gum and tape” measure to get some baseline resources are through the efforts of our assistant superintendent. To date, we have not shared the extent of her efforts publicly. The district recognizes that this is not a sustainable model for funding, and thus it is incorporated into the needs based budget, but it is important to recognize her efforts.

novak-photo1Dr. Katie Novak, our assistant superintendent, and a resident of Groton with four kids who are future GD graduates, is one of the nation’s leading experts on the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Dr. Novak is a best-selling author and a sought after speaker locally, nationally, and internationally with presentations worldwide, ranging from New Zealand to Belgium to Nova Scotia. Although most of these presentations occur during Dr. Novak’s contracted vacation time, many people are not aware that she leverages her expertise to bring in funds to support Groton-Dunstable educators as well.

Dr. Novak first broached the concept of presenting on behalf of the district in mid July of 2014. Dr. Kristan Rodriguez, Superintendent of Schools, recalls, “I was shocked that she would be willing to do this with having to take over two departments but she indicated that without this she would not have the basic funding we needed for the curriculum department.”

In 2014-2015, Novak funded the purchase of all specialized curriculum for our small group math programs at the middle school and the high school, paid for Wilson certification for one of the district reading specialists, and donated money to the curriculum lines at both Florence-Roche and Swallow Union so they could purchase materials for the Calkins Writer’s Units of Study for teachers in grades K-4. Without Novak’s additional funds, grades would have had to share the units amongst them.

In 2015-2016, funds paid for substitute release time for the three committees that contribute to the professional learning of GDRSD employees: Professional Development Committee, Educator Evaluation Working Group, and Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS) Task Force. These committees meet during the school day which requires funding to pay for their substitutes. Because the current budget does not allow for this expense, Novak’s funds cover this and allow our educators to foster collaboration and community.

Additionally, Dr. Novak has funded additional release time for all elementary teachers so they could receive additional professional development with their teams to unpack the modules for the newly adopted K-8 math curriculum. Lastly, the funds were used to pay for the registrations for our two elementary reading specialists to attend PD with Teacher’s College so they could support our elementary teachers by providing PD in-house as they work to implement the Writer’s Units of Study in 2016-2017.

Dr. Novak uses other cost-saving measures to ensure that each dollar in her budget is maximized. For example, she is trading professional development presentations with Dr. George Van Horn, a national expert on the implementation of PBIS. Dr. Novak will present in Indiana in July in exchange for Dr. Van Horn’s services throughout the 16-17 academic year. In addition, she declines payment for teaching graduate courses to GD staff. For example, during the summer of 2015, she taught two 3-credit graduate level courses, Introduction to Universal Design for Learning and Mastering the Art of Writing through Fitchburg State University, and waived her stipend. This summer, she is teaching her UDL course again to over 50 staff members. In all other district graduate courses, instructors are paid $1000/credit. By waiving these stipends, this has allowed Novak to pay staff instructors to offer 3 additional graduate courses to meet the needs of our teachers: Teaching ELL Students, Google Apps for Education, and Teaching Mathematics in the 21st Century.