By SHANNON WATKINS
During the Pulaski County School Board meeting last Thursday night, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Academic Support Stacey Heller gave an informational presentation on instructional goals and plans for the school system in the coming year.
Among the changes, Heller said, was that a new curriculum has been purchased for Pre-K classes for this school year. The curriculum covers all areas, but the main focus is literacy.
For elementary classes, Heller said that the school system has adopted the “Words Their Way” program for kindergarten through second grade classes. She described it as word study approach that helps students master the recognition, spelling and meaning of specific words; it also allows them to generalize their working knowledge of words beyond isolated examples. Heller emphasized this is a supplement to reading instruction that is already happening.
Other changes include a reading program that encompasses kindergarten through sixth grade. In previous years the program only included kindergarten through fifth grades. For the middle schools, seventh and eighth grade language arts teachers gathered and analyzed data from SOLs and used it to determine effective writing strategies consistent between both middle schools. Virtual Virginia foreign language classes will also be offered, said Heller.
Incoming high school freshmen will have 60 minutes each of English, Science and Social Studies all year long, said Heller. This change was discussed extensively last year, she said. Algebra I would also be taught for 90 minutes, all year long.
“Math is an area that we need to improve in, and we feel like this is a good way to get that strong foundation in Algebra I so that through the years those students will not fall behind,” said Heller. “And of course we’ve updated all the pacing guides for all these ninth grade classes so that they reflect a 60 minute class period, all year long.”
Heller said that also within the English class for ninth graders, students must take another credit-bearing online class in order to graduate, and that last year, teachers created the online class and piloted it. The course will be incorporated into the upcoming 60 minute English class, she said.
Continuing from last year will be a mentor program that allows mentors to meet with at-risk students an hour a week, help them with problem areas and encourage them to attend school regularly.
Real-time remediation will be an important part of how teachers handle lessons in the coming year. “When you teach a skill, you test a skill,” said Heller. “If the student doesn’t have that skill, we continue to teach that skill until the student gets it. So that we’re not waiting until the end of the nine weeks to remediate on skills and students have been exposed to other objectives and they all build on each other. We need to make sure teachers have space within the time period that they have to do remediation.”
Among other changes will be the addition of textbook manager, a system that lets the schools track textbook inventory.
“The textbooks are all being barcoded in all the schools so we can keep up with materials that we have, so that we don’t purchase materials that another school may have,” said Heller. “In the past it would be calling around and see if you can get it. Now we can pull it up and see which school needs some (textbooks) and which have extra. We can check those out to the students and check those out to the teachers. We can just be more accountable of the resources we’re purchasing and see where our money’s going.”
During the question and answer period, school board member Joe Guthrie asked, “At the high school with the schedules you talked about, would it have some students changing classes at different times from other students, is that right? Could you talk a little about planning for that? How do you go about that?”
Heller replied, “We will have teachers on duty during the class changes, and actually I think it will be better for the ninth graders because they will be changing classes with a much smaller population than they normally are.”
Superintendant Dr. Tom Brewster praised the textbook manager program, mentioning that it might be possible to inventory and track the use of iPads in the Bring Your Own Device program starting this year.
Board Chairman Mike Barbour asked Heller how much inconsistency she was aware of between different classes and schools, in terms of teaching methods.
“The main area that we see (inconsistency in) is in math, because there are multiple ways to teach how to solve particular problems,” said Heller. “And what we need to do is make sure we’re teaching it the way the state department has it listed in the curriculum framework.” She said there should be a consistent vocabulary used when teaching the subject.
Barbour asked, “Are there inconsistencies in this area? If you’re addressing it, I assume there must be.”
“We will look at the areas where we need to improve,” said Heller. “Math is a weakness. Working with teachers and pacing guides, we’ve noticed that that is an issue that we need to address, which we’re already working towards that. It’s not a difficult task. It’s just a matter of getting everybody together and making sure.”