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'PDS work is always changing' says school administrator

Erica Gilbertson

May 1, 2017

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Growing up near Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mark Tavernier "always knew" he would become an educator.

Mark Tavernier

He became the first person in his family to graduate from college (Olivet College) and then went on to earn three advanced degrees. His varied career in education brought him to the Clarke County School District 11 years ago, where he is now in his third year as associate superintendent for instructional services and school performance. In this role, he serves as the primary administrator who supports and leads the Professional Development School District (PDSD) partnership for the school district, while Janna Dresden, director of the Office of the School Engagement, serves as his counterpart for the UGA College of Education.

Tavernier has been involved in the PDS work from the beginning of the UGA-CCSD partnership. In 2008, he served on the planning team for J. J. Harris Elementary, CCSD's first professional development school. At the time he was serving as director of teaching and learning, which he did for 8 years.

"I like the fact that the PDS work is always changing and evolving—nothing is static. We're always trying to move the work to the next level. At the end of the day, it's about the kids and providing experiences for kids," he explained.

From 2009 to 2017, Tavernier along with other PDSD leaders, supported the growth of the partnership from one school to a district-wide partnership with all 21 schools involved at varying levels. Tavernier attributes this growth to relationships and trust. "Each partner values the other's expertise, and there is trust on both sides so that despite all the personnel changes, we have created a structure that can be sustained," he said.

One of the most powerful parts of the partnership is the opportunity that CCSD students have to interact with UGA students on a daily basis, according to Tavernier. He is also excited about the job-embedded professional learning offered by UGA Professors-in-Residence, such Lou Tolosa-Casadont's support in dual-language immersion classrooms at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary.

Denise Spangler and Mark Tavernier

Tavernier has been a member of the PDSD executive committee since the group was created in 2011. The committee meets monthly to guide and inform the PDSD. Tavernier believes that the work of the Executive Committee has deepened over time. "We now strengthen and broaden the work of the PDSD," he said. "We spend time looking at qualitative data and identify trends and areas where we need to ask additional questions." Committee members include three CCSD representatives (Superintendent and two Associate Superintendents) and three College of Education representatives (Associate Dean for Academic Programs, Director of the Office of School Engagement, and Director of PreK-12 Educator Preparation).

He is appreciative of Interim Superintendent Jack Parish, who also serves on the executive committee. Since Parish was formerly an associate dean at the College of Education, he has "seen both sides of the work," according to Tavernier, which helps inform the direction for the PDSD. Tavernier believes the biggest challenge for the PDSD partnership is the time needed to meet and plan, because when work is done between two large institutions, it requires additional coordination.

Tavernier supports teachers and administrators' involvement in the PDSD by providing funding for them to present at National Association for Professional Development Schools conferences and encouraging them to participate in annual PDSD co-teaching workshops and other professional learning opportunities. He has also been instrumental in developing and supporting Experience UGA (a PreK-12th grade field trip program to UGA's campus) and Camp DIVE (a program to prevent summer learning loss), two initiatives that grew out of the PDSD partnership.

A new CCSD superintendent was named in early April, so the PDSD is in a time of transition. Tavernier is hopeful that the new superintendent will not only value the work, but also help to expand it.

"Though our partnership with UGA began with the College of Education, it has grown to include other units at UGA, such as the College of Public Health. There is potential for us to continue to evolve to address targeted needs that we have," he said.

In addition to supporting the PDSD, Tavernier oversees the work of eight CCSD offices and departments, including special education, assessment, federal programs, and early learning, among others.

Prior to coming to Clarke County, Tavernier held many different roles as an educator in Virginia, including director of English-language arts and teacher of English at all levels—elementary, middle, and high school. He earned his master's degree from Old Dominion, his Ed.S. from George Washington University and his Ed.D. from Virginia Tech.