Recently promoted Teri Faught on her new role, learning loss, equity and teaching

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

A longtime teacher and administrator in the Mountain View–Los Altos School District, Teri Faught this week assumed the role of associate superintendent of educational services.

Faught — who’s served as the district’s distance learning administrator since last summer — fills a vacancy left by Margarita Navarro in February, and in her new role is responsible for overseeing curriculum and instruction across the district. The board of trustees unanimously approved her appointment last week.

Before serving as distance learning administrator and now associate superintendent, Faught was an assistant principal at Mountain View High School for three years, previously working on the district’s instructional support team, having taught Earth Science, Biology and AP Environmental Science courses at Mountain View prior to that.

WOLVERINE STATE

Hailing from Michigan, Faught studied biology and earth science at Western Michigan University, going on to teach science for a year in her home state and another four in Illinois. She said that her mother, a retired teacher, is responsible for her career choice.

“My brother and I were raised watching my mom grading papers at night and preparing lessons, and we’d go in on the weekends and help decorate her boards,” Faught said. “So I just always witnessed when I grew up that this career is very dynamic and that it’s very impactful to the families and the students that go to the school.”

(courtesy Teri Faught)

She said she was interested in the sciences going into college, and the “passion and heart” that she observed from her mother in her teaching career pushed her toward science education specifically.

But eventually, precipitated by her natural draw to the outdoors, she moved from Illinois to California years ago. 

“I had a lot of fun [in Chicago], a lot of great variety of architecture and art … but after four years I realized that I needed to get back out to being able to interact more with the environment,” Faught said. “I looked at Colorado, the Seattle area, the Bay Area, and I threw a bunch of interviews around.”

Faught said she was seeking a school with a diverse population, a change from the “monoculture” of suburban Michigan. Colorado wasn’t able to satisfy that need, which drew her to Mountain View.

“I remember I got interviewed, and the department coordinator took me for a tour after the interview … and the bell rang for a passing period,” she said. “The students came out … and I just remember that feeling I got to see the interaction and the diversity of the students. I remember thinking, ‘This is my place. If they’ll have me, I feel at home here.’”

(courtesy Teri Faught)

Since then, Faught’s enjoyed the diversity as well as access to the outdoors, with a catch: She commutes from Santa Cruz.

“Yeah, it’s not fun,” she remarked about the commute. 

But even a long and traffic-riddled migration can’t sour Faught’s good-natured charm she’s shown so often as she’s presented distance learning updates and statistics at board meetings for the past eight months in her role as distance learning administrator.

“In a way I don’t mind because I love to read and I love podcasts — they influence me and they give me ideas,” Faught said. “So it’s a good time to get professional learning in.”

She said she also uses the time to catch up with family and friends back in the Midwest over the phone, although she did note she’s secretly hoping that self-driving car technology quickly becomes fine-tuned, in which case she could hammer away at emails as her car drives her to work.

EQUITY AND ADDRESSING LEARNING LOSS

Faught assumes her role as the pandemic continues to exacerbate inequities among the student population — and as the district seeks to address its identification for significant disproportionality given an overrepresentation of Latino students in special education programs.

In her new role, much of her time will be devoted to addressing those problems.

“I’m coming in at a place where the root causes have already been discussed and confirmed, and the objectives have been put in place,” Faught said. “So this position that I’m now walking into is to ensure that the resources and time is put into meeting these objectives and these goals.”

She specifically expressed gratitude to Brigitte Sarraf, former associate superintendent of educational services, for spearheading the district’s plan to address the significant disproportionality identification. 

“It’s not overnight, it’s not a one year thing, this will be something we’re working on for three years,” Faught added. “To be honest, I’m really excited about it. I love challenges, and this is a challenge where I think we’re all saying ‘This isn’t okay’ — there are no fingers being [pointed] at anybody, but in the same sense it’s like ‘Now is the time … All hands on deck.’”

Beyond the early intervening services plan, Faught said that the district has shorter-term plans in the works to address the damage and learning loss wrought by the pandemic.

Specifically, the district plans to extend summer learning opportunities and provide “more robust” support for students that may need more one-on-one instruction.

“We’re looking into a variety of summer opportunities that extend beyond summer school that are perhaps not necessarily just for a student who failed; maybe it’s for a student who got a C in a class, but it’s like Swiss cheese — there’s big holes in their learning for various reasons, and more than normal,” Faught said.

Another facet of the district’s approach will be aiding teachers, as students will enter the classroom next fall with different levels of knowledge than in normal years.

“[Teachers] are used to students walking in at the beginning of the year where there’s a little bit of learning loss or regression,” Faught said. “That’s very typical, that’s why they do a little bit of reteaching and ease into the curriculum. But [we’re looking into] how are we supporting that even more this school year coming back — hopefully coming back.”

One part of that might be implementing diagnostic tests at the beginning of the school year, likely in English and math classes, to give teachers a sense of where the students are at the beginning of the year — as opposed to discovering holes in knowledge later on.

Faught did stress that the plans for diagnostic tests are tentative, and that the district may very well choose not to go that route.

The district will continue its remote, self-guided “Option B” curriculum even once the pandemic is over, adding yet another option to the district’s range of learning opportunities that support different demographics.

“Some students [may want] a semester or a year to truly explore a passion or a sport while having a good education, but perhaps [they can’t] adhere to a bell schedule,” Faught said. “Some of our students may need to go into therapy or treatment, and the schedule that they have to support their program makes it very challenging to attend and make up work for classes that they miss.”

She added that some students may thrive in an independent study format, where they can choose what to work on and when at their own pace.

Faught said that the extension of Option B adds value to the district’s already diverse offering of educational programs, including comprehensive sites such as Mountain View and Los Altos high schools; College Now! for juniors and seniors looking to explore college classes and campuses; Middle College for students who want their “feet on both sides”; and the Freestyle Academy, which teaches communication, arts and technology.

“This independent study is something that we know is not for everybody — it’s not a huge demographic that it fits,” Faught said. “But there’s a small population that it does support one way or another, not even necessarily for the whole four years, it might be something that supports them for a year or even a semester. But it’s here to provide that opportunity.”

MISSING THE CLASSROOM

Despite expressing excitement for her new role — and an even greater slate of responsibilities than her previous administrative roles — Faught said that she misses being back in the classroom every day.

“I truly found joy working with students,” Faught said. “I feel that big picture–wise, this position is far more impactful of supporting students and being able to support equity and achievement overall. But at the classroom level you’re building relationships, really pure, strong relationships — I still talk to my former students.”

In her 24 years of education experience, Faught has largely taught at the high school level, citing the “heavy influence” that science has in secondary schools as opposed to the relatively simple scientific concepts in elementary school curriculum.

Although, she did say that in her first year of teaching she taught mostly middle schoolers, and had in fact been searching for a job at a middle school when she moved to Illinois.

But the school that she ended up joining — which she fell in love with — only had high schoolers, and she hasn’t turned back since.

“I was like ‘Sure, why not, I’ll give this a shot,” she said. “And I realized, ‘My gosh, high school kids are awesome to work with.’”

“Seeing the inspiration that I can provide or the motivation or problem solving, that’s what I really miss,” Faught added. “I remember there were times when I was teaching and I told myself ‘I’m actually getting paid right now?’ Like, I’m enjoying myself so much working with this group of teenagers, that I can’t believe I’m getting paid for it.”

She added that when she first left the classroom to take on an instructional support teacher position, she did so intending to gain a “bigger picture” understanding of the educational realm and return back to the classroom — something which she hasn’t done yet.

“I’m a risk-taker, I’m an explorer, I like to tinker [and] I like to try new things,” Faught said. “And when some opportunities opened up, I think just my natural personality was like ‘Sure, I want to check this out, I want to see what I can learn from it — I’m sure I’ll be able to grow.’”

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