Online animations and practice problems. Diverse literature selections. Clear connections and transitions between lessons as students advance through grades.
The new math and language arts materials recommended last week to the Pasco School Board caused excitement among the teachers, administrators and parents who put them forward about how the next textbooks, workbooks and online offerings will change classroom instruction. Even board member Amy Phillips choked up following a presentation on the materials.
“It’s like Christmas,” she said.
The board has yet to vote on the recommendations, with a decision expected at its April 26 public meeting after a public viewing period from 4 to 7 p.m. today and April 19 at the district’s administrative offices, 1215 W. Lewis St. If approved, the new materials would be used for at least six years.
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Some penny pinching will be needed if the board approves the recommendation. The new materials would cost $5.6 million, about $1.7 million more than the district budgeted this year for the effort. There also would be a rush to have teachers trained to use the new textbooks and other pieces before classes start in the fall.
But Deputy Superintendent Michelle Whitney, who will become superintendent in July, said she wasn’t concerned about finding money in the district’s budget to cover the cost. And board members said they were pleased with the work and dedication the curriculum review committees put in.
The push for new textbooks and related classroom materials began in October, following a teacher strike that delayed the opening of Pasco schools in September.
Under the new teacher contract, recommendations for new language arts and math materials for students in all grades are required by this spring. Science and arts recommendations are due to the board by spring 2017.
Now I know what all my fourth-grade students will come in with.
Tom DuVall, fifth-grade teacher
Public input, teacher surveys and determining whether the proposed materials met the Common Core state standards in math and language arts were part of the review process. Committee members each committed more than 100 hours to the effort, said LeAnn Nunamaker, the district’s director of curriculum and professional development.
The recommended materials were largely from publisher Houghton Mifflin — the Journeys/Senderos and Collections series for language arts and Math Expression series for elementary school math. The Agile Mind series, developed by an educational foundation, would be used in Pasco’s middle and high schools. The materials can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/Pasco Curriculum.
Beyond being aligned with state educational standards, committee members said the recommended materials met numerous other criteria that teachers and parents wanted, such as promoting vocabulary used in numerous subjects.
Pasco High School math teacher Brian Torrence described the materials in his subject as more hands-on and engaging while giving students more freedom to work on lessons without lugging their textbook around, thanks to online components.
“You can go over a slide show again; you can get instant feedback on problems,” he said.
The Pasco School District will offer public displays of the proposed English language arts and mathematics materials from 4 to 7 p.m. April 18-19 at the district’s administrative offices, 1215 W. Lewis St.
The biggest benefit, however, will be consistency, committee members said.
The current textbooks and curriculum vary not only grade to grade but school to school in Pasco. The Houghton Mifflin language arts series are meant to complement each other and provide smooth transitions. That also will be possible in math, despite using materials from two publishers for elementary and secondary students.
“Now I know what all my fourth-grade students will come in with,” said Tom DuVall, a fifth-grade teacher at Ruth Livingston Elementary School.
Board Vice President Steve Christensen said consistency between schools was one of his biggest concerns and he was glad to see it addressed in the recommendations. Phillips said she was happy to see that they could be adapted for the district’s Spanish- and Russian-speaking students as well as a range of student ability, from those with special needs to gifted students.
Board members still expressed some concerns, including ensuring all teachers buy in to using the new textbooks and that they are properly trained to use them. Nunamaker said the cost of the materials includes some initial training from the publishers, and plans are being made to offer more training in coming years.
It’s inspiring to see a group of professionals dig into a complex problem and come up with a great solution.
Michelle Whitney, Pasco deputy superintendent
“As new teachers come on, they’ll continue to be trained,” she said.
Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators, told the Herald that he was pleased with how the district and union worked together on finding new classroom materials and was eager to begin work on the next round of material adoptions.
And while he hasn’t personally reviewed the recently recommended materials, he has heard only good things about them from teachers and those in other districts where they are already used.
“This is what the kids need. This is what the community wanted,” Olson said.
Whitney said she hasn’t yet determined where money would be pulled from in the district’s budget to cover the excess cost for the new materials. But given the number of years the materials are expected to be used, she thinks it’s a reasonable expense. Now the district and the teacher’s union are already looking ahead to selecting new materials for science and other subjects.
“It’s inspiring to see a group of professionals dig into a complex problem and come up with a great solution,” she told the Herald.