Brandywine talks new elementary, middle school curriculum, career tech opportunities

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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NILES — The Brandywine Board of Education’s February meeting featured reports on the success of a new elementary and middle school curriculum and new career technical education opportunities.

Board Vice President Thomas Payne said he had recently met with Berrien RESA officials about RESA’s recent acquisition of Lake Michigan College’s Bertrand Crossing facility which is located in the Brandywine district. He said the move will help RESA facilitate career-technical-education programs for students throughout the county.

“The facility is gorgeous, huge and has a lot of space,” he said. “They see it as important to have as a resource for districts in the county. It gives us an opportunity to partner with manufacturers and other companies. As we expand our program, we can lean on what they’re doing.”

Berrien RESA Superintendent Eric Hoppstock said Tuesday that LMC donated the building to RESA last September and it has now been renamed as the Bertrand Innovation Center. He said they will continue to partner with LMC to offer Early Middle College and dual credit courses.

Hoppstock said an announcement will be made this Friday about a collaborative effort with area companies to address business talent supply shortages by providing them with an untapped resource: high school juniors and seniors.

Becky Ponka-Lokey, the multi-tier system of support coordinator for the district’s elementary and middle schools, reported on the new curriculum being used this school year. The English language arts curriculum is called CKLA and has been developed by the Amplify Company.

“We are the leaders in our county and in the area for using these materials,” she told board members, adding that educators from River Valley and New Buffalo have visited Brandywine classrooms to see how the new curriculum is working out. “School districts are coming to us and asking if they can learn from us.”

Ponka-Lokey credited the new curriculum for helping students improve their academic achievement levels and pointed to the student test scores as proof. She said a higher percentage of students met expected growth levels in the period from last fall to now.

“The scores for the current year are generally higher and we’re interpreting this as a positive sign of the effectiveness of the new core materials,” she said.

Students take the NWEA tests in the fall, winter and spring with teachers using the results to know which students may need extra help.

“It gives staff an assessment on every student of where they’ve been, where they’re at now, where they’re going and what support they need,” Superintendent Travis Walker said. “We get a ton of information on what students can do and what they’re not quite ready to do yet.”

Ponka-Lokey said the new Amplify curriculum offers support materials for teachers such as professional development and digital and in person training. Teachers can get help in a variety of areas such as student engagement, lesson planning, teaching with different types of materials, reaching all learners and interventions.

Feedback has been positive so far, she said, with teachers saying they have seen an increase in student engagement. For example, she noted that students are sounding out words earlier than they have in the past, have higher than anticipated knowledge retention and have high levels of proficiency on assessment tests.

Walker recognized the entire multi-tier system of support team, school counselors and the district’s two school resource officers. He said the MTSS team members provide a wealth of information to the staff as well as intervention and behavior support so that teachers can concentrate on teaching.

Counselor Appreciation Week was Feb. 5-9 and School Resource Officer Appreciation Day is Feb. 15.

“We have noticed a shift in culture and behavior in the district since we brought the school resource officers on,” he said. “We appreciate all they do from the law standpoint and the education standpoint.”

Walker said his staff is also developing new communication protocols to handle issues more efficiently and effectively. The new protocols can be found on the district’s website and gives parents the steps and process to follow when they have a concern.

In audience comments, the only person to speak was resident Ryan Adams. Adams spoke out in support of the May bond issue renewal.”I’m here standing in support of the zero mill bond proposal that will greatly benefit our district,” he said.

He said the proposal will make a lot of improvements to the district that can only pay dividends for the community. He specifically talked about the track improvements to be made, the construction of the new performing arts center and the increased level of career technical education support.

Board members said last month that the proposal on the May 7 ballot will not raise people’s taxes but will extend the current debt levy of 3.9 mills another 18 years to 2044. Informational and advocacy campaigns are expected to start soon with the district allowed to provide information only and outside groups able to advocate for passage.

The projects to be done if the renewal is approved would cost between $20.9 and $21.9 million to complete. Extending the current debt levy out another 18 years would bring in an estimated $21.7 million.