52. The Curriculum Council Discusses the Communications SAC’s Proposal

The District’s Curriculum Council instituted the organizational bylaws prepared by the steering committee, wrote the long-range plan, and appointed what has been renamed the Communications Subject Area Committee.

Its membership now includes:

  • Ken Towers, Superintendent (Ex Officio)
  • Rebecca Johnson, Assistant Superintendent and Committee Chair
  • Bryon Garrett, Member, Board of Education
  • Vernon Wilson, Member, Board of Education
  • Molly Grover, Patron and Mother of a High School Student
  • David Askins, Patron and Father of an Elementary School Student
  • Barbara Morgan, Middle School Language Arts Teacher and Committee Chair
  • Billie Yost, First Grade Teacher
  • Jackie Smyth, Third Grade Teacher
  • Bob Snyder, Fifth Grade Teacher
  • Mike Hall, High School Language Arts Teacher
  • Joan Bell, Special Education Coordinator
  • Myra Jackson, Elementary School Principal
  • Jack Dodd, High School Principal
  • Mary Chapman,Middle School Science Teacher, Science SAC Chair Designee
  • Betty Wilson, High School Math Teacher, Math SAC Chair Designee
  • Don Baker, K-8 Music Teacher, Fine Arts SAC Chair Designee
  • Jennifer Mitchell, District Technology Coordinator / Media Specialist

Bea Perkins, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, serves as the council’s secretary and record keeper. As strongly suggested by consultants, the council’s minutes are comprehensive, precise, and regularly reviewed.

Rebecca uses staff development periods to call a two-day meeting of the council. The agenda includes a few updates and reports, mostly dominated by the proposal coming from the Communications SAC.

Rebecca Convenes the District’s Curriculum Council

Before the meeting I talk with Ken and Barbara. Joining us is Administrative Assistant Bea Perkins, who prepares all handouts and ensures the proper functioning of the computer projection media. She will explain how meeting records will be maintained and available for future reference.

I go over the meeting agenda, reviewing what we accomplished at the beginning. The ad hoc steering committee became the council in accordance with bylaws drafted and later agreed to by the board. As stipulated in the bylaws, council membership was increased by adding two community residents who are also parents of students.

Discussed again is the long-range plan, which can be modified as necessary. No changes.

Possibly the most important discussion from past meetings pertains to the tentative district mastery statement. That too can be modified. But the changes must be made before subject mastery statements are prepared or confirmed. Curriculum is written based on them.

Mastery statement development has been in flux, something to be continued in the months ahead. Thus, the first appointed SAC made assumptions. One assumption was that the tentative version was close enough to council intentions to align the subject mastery statement with it.

Ultimately, the alignment of intended student outcomes written in district, subject area and grade level mastery statements is imperative.

But that did not happen this time, opening the door to unexpected creative thinking.

The current district mastery statement was lifted from an outside source. A good document at the beginning of processes we are implementing.

But, if it or something like it is finalized, it will become much more real and powerful when its overall impact is realized.

After those pro forma items are covered, the council will hear the report from the only currently operating subject area committee. Ken, Barbara and I know that report will be familiar to many on the council. They also serve on the SAC. It will not be familiar to Vernon and the two community representatives.

For others, the report could be somewhat startling. Disconcerting in that it seems to exceed the authority of a subordinate body. Proposed ideas and practices are dramatic changes from the norm in American education yet aligned with the new learning infrastructure philosophy.

The Council Meeting Begins

I welcomed new members of the council, ensured everyone was acquainted, and asked Bea to read the minutes of the last meeting. That explicit review brought everyone up to speed on launching the project. Bylaws and the long-range plan were quickly summarized. I decided to postpone further discussion of the mastery statement until after the SAC report was presented and discussed.

Then I invited Barbara, subject area committee chair, to begin.

“My report needs a little background. According to the model we follow, our first order of business was supposed to be the gathering of information about our current language arts curriculum. What has been called the walls exercise

“We were told that our current way of doing business is not bad. We are already professional decision-makers about curriculum. We use it for the benefit of our students.

“The problem is we had not previously aligned the curriculum in terms of scope and sequence. The ‘walls exercise’ is a way to ensure there are no gaps or unnecessary repetitiveness. Designed to check for appropriateness.

“The discussion on appropriateness partially led us toward the review of mastery statements before we analyzed the current curriculum in the walls exercise. We felt the need to be cognizant of where we were supposed to be heading academically with our students.

“That took us to the tentative district mastery statement — to create a language arts mastery statement aligned with it. To get a sense of where we were going at the local level.

“Unlike previous years when we designed curriculum using other techniques, preliminary alignment with state standards was avoided.

“We were told to rework the curriculum before checking it against the state’s standards. The old unpacking of standards method is top-down. Constrained in terms of academic reach. It limits our professional vision of what students should know and do.

“Also, standards tend to use verbs that are more operational than measurable. Such as:  students will cover, discuss, review, read, and study. Action verbs that do not pertain to a particular skill or knowledge area to be measured.”

I asked Barbara if the review of standards was still on the SAC’s future agenda. She said yes. Then I asked if our new local mastery statements might make alignment with state standards more difficult.

“Possibly,” she said.

“Why?”.

Barbara said, “Our district’s mastery goals for student learning, while in the ballpark indicated in the standards, are written using a broader intellectual construct. Maybe an oversimplification.

“But like the differences between behaviors needed to pilot a plane and explaining what makes the plane fly under varying weather conditions.

Barbara grinned. “That may be a bad analogy, but it’s the best I can do offhand. Besides, our state standards are supposed to be guidelines and not curriculum. Or even a specific source for curriculum.”

I said we should accept that report for the time being and take a break. Since the district and language arts mastery statements played such a significant role, let’s look at them next and examine their significance.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


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