Clear Fork BOE looks at new curriculum

By Fonda Kendrick - Bellville Star

Stacey Swank

Stacey Swank

Last Thursday, Clear Fork Curriculum Director Stacey Swank presented to Board of Education members the results of a pilot program that tested new English/Language Arts (ELA) curricula for a recommendation to purchase. Swank said the last ELA curriculum was obtained a decade and a half ago.

Clear Fork educators involved with the pilot program chose a curriculum that meets state standards, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The course chosen is a six-year license, with textbooks, workbooks, and online materials included.

The grand total of the curriculum for kindergarten through twelfth grade students would be approximately $199,438. With 1,645 students in the school district, this breaks down to $20.21 per student each year, or the equivalent of approximately $500 per classroom annually.

“Each grade level will have online access for their content,” explained Swank. “For the Kindergarten through second grade teachers it will work on iPads. For [grades] three through twelve it will work on Chromebooks, so everyone is covered.”

Swank said elementary teachers are excited to use the proposed curriculum, as they would be able to integrate science and social studies elements into their ELA lessons. “According to standards, for elementary, they should be teaching half nonfiction and half fiction. This curriculum meets this requirement.”

Swank continued, “Also included in this price is $232,994.79 in free materials. The way the company does it. We pay for the student materials, and they give us all the teacher materials.”

“We have not purchased English/Language Arts curriculum in at least 15 years. We have some gaping holes,” Swank explained to board members.

The floor was then given to several Clear Fork educators who had been involved in the pilot program.

“All the buzzwords lately are ‘rigor,’” observed Sue Brown, a fifth-grade teacher at Bellville Elementary. “You want to make sure it’s tough enough for your students and getting them ready for all of these future activities and assessments. So when we got this series and were piloting it, this comes with a textbook. It comes with many leveled readers, so I can have guided reading groups that go along with the anchor text that’s in our big textbook. You introduce the vocabulary words, which are at grade-level. You read the anchor text. You read a paired text, and in my case usually it’s a fiction and a nonfiction. So then you go into your literature circle or your guided reading groups, and there are four levels. There’s a below-grade-level, an at-grade-level, and an above-grade-level guided reading series, and then you have your language learners. And then you have a vocabulary reader. Now the language learner readers I have used with some of my intervention kids, because that takes out the figurative language that some of the language learners would not recognize. Everything’s scaffolded, so I can look in a third grade textbook and find some similar topics. (Below-grade readers) are still reading the concepts, but at a lower level.”

“Last year was a real struggle for me because I spent about $300 putting together lessons. For me, (the curriculum) was a breath of fresh air. But what I’ve loved about it is that it’s engaging. The students are excited about what they are learning,” added Becky Clapp, who teaches third grade at Butler Elementary. “I have a totally different class than I had last year. I have seen the lowest readers just expound this year…. I am using (this curriculum) whole-heartedly.”

Clapp said she also owes much to the Title I reading teachers at her school: Nancy Walker, Theresa Krocker, and Mayme LeGron.

Rachel Schag, a Kindergarten teacher at Bellville Elementary, joined the discussion as well, saying, “(The students are) engaged with their writing. I can take it to the next level. It’s developmentally appropriate what we’re asking them to do. They are performing, and they are achieving. These little kindergarteners are reading and writing and doing a really nice job. I’m seeing independent readers. They are confident in themselves, and that is very nice to see. It’s working smarter, not harder. It’s giving us time to take those higher-level children to the next level and help our other students and meet all of their needs.”

Board members seemed supportive of the educators’ efforts over the years. “I just want to thank the teachers. I think this has been long overdue,” said Councilman Jim Klenk after Swank and the elementary educators’ comments.

Councilman Jim DeSanto also gave his feedback on the subject. “I got on this board because I thought it was desperately needed to improve the curriculum,” he explained. “It’s inexcusable at this point to not be buying textbooks, so I’m glad we’re doing this. I’m very supportive of this,” DeSanto continued. “I’m really glad the teachers had the opportunity to really participate in this process. I’m very grateful for your work, and I get it that you had to cobble stuff together over the years. I hate the fact that you had to. But we’ve got the funds that the community gave us specifically to improve education. So come back to us and give us the metrics. Tell us what your professional opinion is and what you need to make it better.”

High school students will also be supplied both textbooks and online content through the newly-proposed program. It appears that these upgrades are needed at this level as well. “For the high school, I had one high school teacher say, ‘Please find something for us. I’ve got mold growing in my textbooks,’” noted Swank.

Along with the program could be the possibility of a Literacy Coach at both Butler and Bellville Elementary schools. This coming school year, these individuals would teach half of the day and then learn ELA best practices for the other half. The following year these educators would spend half of the day in the classroom and the remainder peer-coaching other teachers on ELA topics. The aim would be to concentrate first on kindergarten through second grade and then third to fifth grade.

Swank noted that the cost to train one coach was $25,000, as the individual would require 15 credit hours of instruction through The Ohio State University, and then additional staff would need to be hired in order to cover classroom hours while the Literacy Coaches were mentoring other teachers.

Swank explained that much is riding on effective ELA education: if students are not reading on grade level by fourth grade, there is a much higher risk of them dropping out. “This program would allow us to have some consistency from kindergarten through twelfth grade,” she commented.

Several board members said that they would be ready to vote on the purchase of the proposed curriculum during next month’s meeting.

Stacey Swank Swank

By Fonda Kendrick

Bellville Star