School district takes closer look at curriculum
Lake Havasu Unified School District is cracking open the school books.
The school board’s 90-minute meeting on Tuesday was longer than the norm and took place before a packed house. Many in attendance were district teachers and officials who hoped to hear about the district’s action plan to improve curriculum. As expected, Superintendent Diana Asseier shared feedback results from a series of curriculum philosophy sessions that occurred in January at each of the district’s eight schools. Board members, district officials and teachers had taken part in the discussions.
Before Tuesday night’s meeting, governing board president Cathy Cox explained the purpose of January’s fact-finding discussions.
“What are the barriers? We wanted to compile input from teachers on what those are. What’s that lynchpin for us to address first? If we can figure out what that is, maybe other (issues) will fall into place and resolve themselves,” she said.
At the meeting, Cox stated that the feedback from teachers during the discussions “was so frank and informative – even courageous. The will is there to make changes,” she said.
Acknowledging that assembling a unified curriculum with resources to support it is a mammoth task, board member John Masden observed that “we’re about to eat an elephant. State standards keep changing – it is shifting sand. We have to have a flexible plan that can change with state changes.”
He also suggested that going forward, the board should bring stakeholders from the community into the curriculum reshaping process. “We need to have our community on board with our plan,” he said.
The board unanimously voted to turn over the initial strategizing to the district’s administrative team, led by Superintendent Asseier.
After accepting the assignment, she outlined a three-part “first steps” plan.
During the curriculum discussions, teachers frequently mentioned a lack of time for planning, communicating with each other, mentoring and professional development. To answer the complaint, Asseier proposed that every Thursday be an early release day district wide for teacher meetings.
Asseier prefaced her next comment by saying “It’s not going to be popular, but we need to look at the essentials. We (teach) way too many standards. We need to have a conversation about narrowing the standards,” she said.
Addressing the district’s deficit of current textbooks and teaching materials, Asseier said, “There’s not a text (book) that would meet Arizona standards.”
“Standards” refers to ever-changing subject matter that aligns with Arizona’s student assessment tests. The necessity of “teaching to the test” is the bane of most educators. In Arizona, the standards are set by the state board of education and are revised about every two years.
The third part of Asseier’s plan is to survey district staff on mathematics resources. At the curriculum discussions, teachers said that test generators were of poor quality and that district students aren’t taught the same material at all elementaries. Discrepancies may not be apparent until the students enter middle school.
“We need a communication platform,” for all math teachers, one Thunderbolt educator suggested at that school’s curriculum meeting. “When students tell a teacher that they’ve never seen that (type of) calculation before, it’s frustrating. You think they’ve already learned it, but they haven’t.”