Weekly Feature



2012-12-12 / Education

Amherst schools eye plan to align curriculum

by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

Superintendent Laura Chabe reviewed the progress of the Amherst School District’s instructional action plan at the Dec. 4 Board of Education meeting.

The overall goal of the plan is to have a guaranteed, viable and aligned curriculum in every subject at every grade level, designed to meet the needs of all students.

One piece of the plan is the common core learning standards, which all prekindergarten to 12th-grade teachers began using for math and English language arts in September.

Committees headed by teacher leaders were formed to write the curriculum, which included culturally responsive teaching practices and intervention options for students.

The other big piece of the plan is the Annual Professional Performance Review, a new comprehensive ratings system for all classroom teachers and principals, with multiple measures of effectiveness resulting in a single composite score.

Chabe said the district’s plan was approved by the state’s commissioner of education earlier in the week.

There are several priority actions Chabe said the district will undertake in the current school year.

Each teacher will be trained in the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Framework, the state-approved observation and evaluation procedure adopted for use in the agreement between the district and the Amherst Education Association.

Science and social studies will begin to have their curriculum aligned with common core learning standards starting in the spring.

Chabe said the district also needs to build on the foundation it established last year in its effort to create a sustainable data collection and management infrastructure.

She said continuing the progress is critical to the district to maximize its capacity to use classroom assessments to monitor student progress, track teacher progress toward goals required by APPR, and to comply with data-driven instruction requirements.

The district also uses several supportive initiatives with the instructional action plan. They include continuing to support the teachers’ use of Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework and Essential Elements of Instruction and best practices in culturally responsive teaching strategies, effectively communicating student information with parents to provide an opportunity for feedback, and having opportunities for students to be peer mentors.

In other curriculum matters, Doug Wolf, the district’s coordinator of technology, updated the board on the status of the district’s technology hardware.

He said the district has 296 printers and copiers, 230 televisions, 230 ceiling mounted projectors, 230 Mobis — remote instruction devices that are used with computers and projectors — 50 iPads, 240 document cameras, 58 security cameras and 165 wireless access points spread out across the four district buildings.

The district also has 1,399 computers, an increase of approximately 600 in the last decade. However, in the past six years, Wolf said the district has not replaced nearly as many computers as it should have.

For the coming year, Wolf said he is planning for the technology section of the recently approved capital project, which will include a complete overhaul of the district’s network.

Wolf is also planning for district computers to receive Windows 7 and Windows Service 2008 upgrades, continuing to train staff in Google Docs, and finding new ways to help staff accept new technology.

Robert Zdrojewski, a middle school technology teacher, suggested to the board that there should be “coaches” to help teachers better understand newer technology.

Julie Flanagan, principal at the Windermere Elementary Intermediate Education Center, and Mary Lavin, the school’s Early Childhood Center principal, outlined to the board some highlights of the school.

During the past four years, student enrollment has increased from 630 to 688, thereisa6percentincreaseinthenumber of students living in poverty, and the number of English as a second language students has doubled from 30 to 59.

In addition, Flanagan said 47 percent of the students come from low-income families.

Lavin said students from low-income families performed much lower than did students not from low-income families on ELA and math state testing but are close to the average for Erie County.

“Students who live in poverty don’t have as much experiences in print,” Lavin said. “They come into school with less words, and their vocabulary affects their learning. There is a concentration on increasing kids’ literary experiences and increasing their time reading print to close that gap.”

Some new programs the district is using include Drop Everything and Learn, a reading program held at the end of the school day three times a week; collaborating with junior participants from Canisius College and Buffalo State College to help students with reading and math, respectively; block scheduling for math to increase opportunities for intervention and planning; and the use of AIMSweb, a program for the monitoring of student instruction.

Lavin said ESL students receive support from staff only 72 minutes out of the day. Lavin said there are ESL teachers who are specialists in reading, but there are none in math.

The board also accepted a donation of a conference room table, two desks and six chairs valued at $1,050 from Ruth Diamond Market Research.

email: pnagy@beenews.com

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