OPS Hires New Mathematics Coaches

Marni Driessen (Left) and Jill Jenkins
Marni Driessen (Left) and Jill Jenkins

When OPS teachers (and Primarily Math graduates) Jill Jenkins and Marni Driessen returned to work after their holiday vacations, they stepped into new buildings with new roles as elementary mathematics coaches. For 2 ½ years, their work as mathematics coaches will be supported by the NebraskaMATH grant. The grant is already supporting mathematics coaches in three other partner districts, Grand Island Public Schools, Lincoln Public Schools and Papillion-La Vista Public Schools.

Jenkins and Driessen were among the first group of OPS teachers to complete the Primarily Math program that is part of the NebraskaMATH grant. Jim Harrington, Supervisor of Mathematics for OPS and member of the NebraskaMATH leadership team, supports the move toward utilizing math coaches. Harrington said, "The Omaha Public Schools believes that coaching teachers is a major component of professional development for classroom teachers. When NebraskaMATH director Jim Lewis approached us with an offer to fund two elementary math coaches, it fit right in with district initiatives to improve math instruction."

According to the district’s description, the job of coach will involve providing a range of support to the teachers and schools to which the coach is assigned in order to improve mathematics instruction. This may include site-based professional development in mathematics content and instructional strategies. Coaches will also help to support teachers in the full implementation of the new curriculum being used in OPS, Math Expressions. This support may take the form of modeling lessons, assisting with lesson planning, coordinating and facilitating grade level math meetings.

Jill Jenkins, who is serving as coach at both King and Kennedy Elementary schools, has this to say about her experience thus far. “I will admit that the opportunity has been bittersweet. I was thrilled when I found out that I got the job as a mathematics coach and was eager to begin my new position within OPS. At the same time I was having mixed emotions about leaving Ashland Park-Robbins because I had taught there for nearly six years and over those years I had built relationships with students who continued to come back to see me every day.”

For Jenkins, leaving her third grade class mid-year was “very difficult to do”, but she remains encouraged by the fact that, as a coach, she has an opportunity “to encourage numerous current and future students to be successful in mathematics through the talented teachers that I will work with to provide the best practices in math instruction”.

Marni Driessen, who is coaching grades K-6 at Mount View and Wakonda Elementary Schools, has this to say about the experience. “The role of a coach is very different from that of a classroom teacher. I love that I am able to focus on math instruction all day, every day. I feel I can really make a difference in my schools by working alongside teachers, who will ultimately have the greatest impact on student achievement.”

Both Jenkins and Driessen have found the new position brings an array of new challenges. From “getting lost in the hallways of the new schools and trying to remember where my office is!” to “finding the time to visit with teachers about their math instruction,” Jenkins and Driessen agree that they have much to learn.

But they are also very encouraged by what they have encountered thus far. Jenkins said “The teachers and staff are all so friendly and welcoming, I feel like I have been part of their staff the entire year”. Driessen concurs, “I have found that most teachers are very receptive, and I have enjoyed the positive conversations thus far about math and math instruction.”

The goal of OPS and NebraskaMATH in hiring coaches is simply to improve achievement in mathematics for all students. Driessen and Jenkins hope their coaching efforts contribute to this cause. Driessen states, “It is my hope that by building strong relationships with my administrators and teachers, that I can spark analysis, reflection and change that will lead to increased student success.”