Brandywine talks curriculum at committee meeting

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

NILES — Brandywine Board of Education members appear to be closer to adopting a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for elementary and middle school students after a Board Curriculum Committee meeting Thursday morning. 

The adoption of the proposed CKLA curriculum could come as soon as Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Travis Walker said. CKLA stands for Core Knowledge Language Arts and was the choice of district teachers who reviewed possible new curricula earlier this year. 

Walker said teachers reviewed a number of potential ELA curricula and that the CKLA one “checked all the boxes” and had “everything they wanted to see offered.” He added that teachers were so enthusiastic about the CKLA materials that they recommended bypassing piloting it for a year in select classrooms and instead have it available for all. 

“What teachers liked about CKLA was the level of rigor embedded in it for students,” he said. “Often students are not challenged enough by the curriculum. With this one, teachers felt that students will not just be reciting information but analyzing it.” 

He said district staff anticipate the new curriculum to help students perform even better on standardized tests. For example, he said Brandywine students scored the highest among 14 school districts on SAT tests, with 59 percent of juniors testing proficient on those tests. 

Walker noted that the curriculum adoption is not yet on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting but could be added. He and other district staff said the sooner the curriculum can be adopted, the better it will be for teachers.  

Walker said that it could take six or seven weeks for the materials to arrive and that teachers need one day of professional development on the materials before school starts.  

School board and Curriculum Committee members Thomas Payne and Angela Seastrom asked questions of Walker, Merritt Elementary Principal Matt Severin, State and Federal Programs Director Amanda Lezotte and elementary intervention teacher Becky Lokey during the meeting.  

Payne and Seastrom said they were not questioning the proposed curriculum materials or staff decisions in recommending them as much as wanting to better understand the process.  

Payne said the committee’s goal has been to be prudent and that they understand the urgency in getting a curriculum in place. He said a special meeting could be called if no action is taken at the board’s Monday night meeting. 

They asked that board members be given updates on student achievement and how well the curriculum is working more often than twice a year. They also asked about the process and timetable for the review of curricula for other subjects such as math, science and social studies. 

Lezotte reported that curricula are reviewed on a rotating basis and that math is not up for review this year as a new curriculum was adopted a few years ago. With the ELA curriculum, she said the district’s policy has been to adopt one for the elementary and middle school grades and use a novel based approach for the high school with no set textbooks. 

For the 50 or so residents in attendance, their concerns in large part were about process and what they see as the board’s micromanaging of the district staff. Former Superintendent John Jarpe said that while he was glad to see district staff in on the discussion, he still sees too much micromanaging being done by board members. 

Ryan Adams held a similar view. 

“The staff know what they are doing, this committee should be dissolved,” he said. “I trust our district’s administrators. If you second guess them, you should expect to be second guessed yourselves.” 

They also questioned why it has taken six or seven months to have a curriculum committee meeting, why no parents were allowed to be on it and why it was scheduled for a weekday morning when many people work. The board’s last committee meeting on the review of explicit books and materials was held on a Friday evening. 

The presence of consultant Jordan Adams at the meeting also didn’t sit well with several in the audience. Adams was invited to attend by Payne and offer his perspective on the curriculum adoption process. Adams has his own company but previously worked for Hillsdale College. 

Walker said during the meeting and afterwards that he doesn’t think the district needs to hire a consultant to help with curriculum matters. He said the district had not paid Adams to attend the meeting and he was unaware of any contract to do so.