2017-06-16 / Front Page

Interim school supt. reviews curriculum

At its Tuesday, June 6 work session the new interim Superintendent of Garden City Public Schools, Dr. Alan Groveman, joined the board of education, faculty and a few parents as they were brought up to speed on the Reading program in the district.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Edward Cannone began a presentation from the district’s 32-member reading committee, comprising of school principals and teachers at all grade levels including five Garden City kindergarten teachers. Monthly meeting from September 2016 to June plus research on scholarly texts and a series of 10 articles brought several items up for dissection. A consultant for reading, Dr. Katherine Dougherty Stahl, was also involved in the committee’s discussions over the course of the 2016-2017 school year. Stahl is the director of the NYU Literacy Clinic and was a public schools’ classroom and reading teacher for 25 years, plus a member of the International Literacy Association RTI Commission.

Lynette Abruzzo, GCUFSD director of Pupil Personnel Services, said the Committee’s literature review looked into articles on best practices and reading diversity. “Our literature review analyzed items at the core of all reading instruc- tion in all schools – phonics, fluency, comprehension, and points of assessment as well as implications for scheduling. Together we read and analyzed 10 articles and compared and contrasted research-based findings on approaches to teaching reading,” she told the school board June 6.

Abruzzo added that conversations with Dr. Stahl gave the Committee an indication that the in-district instruction is excellent, and there are some areas to optimize and build further. She says Stahl’s objectivity and experience helped Garden City Schools create its long and short term goals for reading instruction.

Cannone said the 32 volunteers who signed up for the Reading Committee was “a surprising, shocking and inspiring collaboration.” He noted that the many educators involved represent a tremendous depth and breadth of knowledge in K through 12 education. He likened the 10 months’ of experience the 32 faculty members engaged in to a graduate-level reading course including a look at the science behind reading, separate from ELA (English/Language Arts).

One of the key trains of thought the Reading Committee and district personnel considered was the fact that reading itself does not come naturally to the human mind, as it is an experience based on codification of symbols (letters and/or numbers) as well as organized text. “It is an interaction between students and text. Because texts and academic tasks get harder the ability as a reader can fluctuate over time. Some of the texts as academic professionals (as part of the Committee’s study) challenged us,” Cannone explained.

Hemlock Principal Audrey Bellovin presented Committee findings and said every human had to learn the concept of taking sounds and assigning symbols to them, and decoding symbols into sounds. “We really talked about how students are learning to read in their primary grades and then reading to learn once they get down to initial Elementary stages. There is tremendous alignment in Garden City between school buildings and the appropriate reading levels for each grade. The teachers and administrators are highly attuned to the children’s needs and eager to build and refine practices,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen said nationally, science research has examined decoding to read. “The more we map brains, the more we understand it,” he said.

Keeping the kindergarten literacy block (time period), active guided reading groups for students in grades kindergarten through 5, and for Phonics the “word-work” initiative in all grades K to 12 were noted as items to remain as-is. The Committee reports to the school board that Garden City Schools feature a number of strong and authentic ELA assessments. The “education engineers” Cannone says Garden City has in-district have validated a strong foundation for building.

Hemlock Kindergarten Teacher Lorraine Mayo said for classes K to 12 the review looked at word recognition, phonological awareness, concepts of print, spelling development, reading fluency, conceptual vocabulary, the writing process and motivation. How reading material and subjects are taught were also dissected, from one-on-one instruction to group reading and individual students’ tasks of reading.

“It was a lengthy audit that led to discussions and procedures among practices at the various grade levels and school buildings,” she said.

There are areas in need of alignment to make the best use of students’ and teachers’ time starts with conceptual vocabulary, as Bellovin pointed out.

“It is not that we are not teaching it, but we look at if there is a better way to more explicitly deliver this instruction for conceptual vocabulary,” she said.

Another question on the various stages teachers in Garden City Schools are in their careers lead to the Committee’s talks on the training different people have had for their respective positions. In sum, the discussion turned to “new versus veteran teachers” in terms of approach, guidelines, and whether or not the district is now in line with Reading teachers’ trainings.

Chief among the priorities for Garden City to incorporate are staff development; a Garden City reading boot camp for new teachers and/or a refresher course for veteran teachers.

“Whether it is a teacher just graduated from college or someone with prior experience, we want the new hires to understand the Garden City brand; what it means to address reading in this district. Because of that we felt it was important to give them a briefing on what that is and how it works, and most importantly who they can reach out to internally with faculty for reading guidance,” Dr. Cannone said. He referenced the faculty mentoring program led by Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Dr. Maureen Appiarius and the reading curricula component can become a small segment of that in Garden City Schools.

A two-year timeline for implementing the development series plus developing “data-driven Decision Trees for RTI evaluation” was presented to the school board, with the intent of each initiative growing more robust and complex as time passes. RTI is short for “Response to Intervention,” a framework for collecting and maintaining data to match students’ needs to intervention.

Cannone says for the 2018-2019 school year the district will attempt institution of computer-based assessment programs in Reading. Part the plans Garden City Schools will operate on is driven by New York State moving to all computer-based assessments (standardized testing) by 2020.

Another component for that year, now 15 months away, will be the use of a digital data management repository. Tracking students’ reading levels consistency is a high priority. The assessment and RTI evaluation component of Reading focuses on tracking reading fluency more frequently for students who need it.

“The process of looking at students’ fluency, as fluency is a very strong indicator of future comprehension skill, will involve modifying the way we do it so we can perform it even better,” Cannone explained.

Stewart School Reading Teacher Lauren Healy served on the Assessment Audit subcommittee of the district’s Reading Committee.

“We went to school buildings and talked with faculty and administration to look at the type of assessments we are using for reading. We had a multifaceted K through 12 survey and we found that Garden City Schools really use good quality research-based materials that assess various components of reading and children’s abilities at various levels,” she said.

Locust School Reading Teacher Jane Emmett updated the school board on “areas in need of fine-tuning, optimization and alignment.” Others said the Committee was able to identify a few voids and redundancies. Dr. Cannone commented on the phonics program for all grades and evaluating the 44 sounds in the English language. “We approach phonics in a good way but we can do it even better if we make it more systematic. To that end there should be an evaluation of more formalized programs that exist. We want it to be as tight and as research-allocated as it can be,” he said.

Cannone said the Assessment Audit looked at day to day classroom work that parents are familiar with throughout the school year. “Some of our grade-level benchmarks got really high marks and reviews from our independent consultant, and that is gratifying. It is exciting to confirm that so much of what we (GCUFSD) do is of high quality. One charge to the Committee was to identify priorities – that is where the need for professional development comes in, and we must have respect for existing processes. We want to be cognizant of what works and what is important to preserve even while we modify aspects of it. Generally people in the education profession tend to be patient people,” he said.

Cannone spoke about guided reading in the lower grades and the progression in different forms into Middle School and High School. “That close connection between teacher and student on what they are reading and how they are doing it is a definite keep. There is no doubt about it. Our K through 12 ELA program is tremendously purposeful and differentiated – it is creative and it is student-centric. That is why it works. When our students graduate GCHS they are college and career ready – we can honestly say we’re sending them off as well-prepared as they can be. It is because of how our reading and ELA programs overlap each other,” he said, noting the upcoming Class of 2017 graduation next Saturday.

Another important initiative will be aligning Reading curricula in the district to next-generation Science and Social Studies standards. “Reading is about reading in all areas, not just ELA. Our ELA-based nonfiction is very important for the mind to work to read these texts effectively. The overall district goals include one of this Committee’s goals,” Dr. Cannone explained.

Cannone, who joined GCUFSD in summer 2015, said he has learned that what separates the high-ranking school district here from others on Long Island is the reflective nature and the “Keep- Start-Stop” format for curriculum review to investigate all aspects.

Dr. Feirsen called Reading the foundation for many of the academic programs Garden City and all walks of education have to offer a student. He said the annual curriculum review presentation, delivered to the community each June for over a decade, examines a subject area in Garden City Schools K through 12 series “in a very strategic fashion as we look to identify best practice, state of the art curricula.”

“The goal for curriculum review is to come out with a workable multi-year plan to remain current in the field, apply best practices and develop plans to go forward. When the presentation leaves off it will give us a set of objectives,” Dr. Feirsen said. He says a primary question involves working with what is in place in the district and continuing the effective teaching methods and curriculum features. From there the focus is on fine-tuning and integrating new ideas “to keep current with teaching and learning, as in education and every field things are always changing.” Third is cutting some of the less-preferred materials, program features or methodologies.

Outside of the district’s controls, building great reading skills and habits are an inherent contribution Garden City parents have made. School Board Vice President Tom Pinou considered comprehension “the backbone of reading.” He talked about progress into Middle School and High School, and Pinou questioned Cannone and com- mittee members on their findings at the June 6 meeting. “What is it we do in classrooms and taking home for parents in the community to determine reading comprehension? And how do you enhance that?” he asked.

Cannone says it starts with the process of letter and sound recognition and sight words for young learners. Text features and sentence structure then leads to processing material, ultimately the comprehension develops.

“Parents can play a role in talking with teachers and principals and starting with youngest kids’ sight words and flash cards as they learn them. Those are things that help develop their brain power. As they get older, reading with your children and asking the kids questions about what they read – asking to make a prediction or identify cause and effect, or to describe a character – those are fundamental things that happen to bring up good readers inside and outside of schools. That is because their parents and guardians helped turned them into those people. In classes we do all the science behind it but those are the very real and very practical, simple things people can do,” Cannone explained.

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Balanced literacy

Balanced literacy shortchanges kids in phonics; GC does not teach phonics well.

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