As new curriculum sparks frustration and concerns among Fort Wayne Community Schools' students, parents and staff, Superintendent Wendy Robinson wants to separate emotion from fact.
Parents vented frustrations this week on social media, claiming the material, particularly math, has discouraged their children.
On Thursday, Robinson didn't downplay the magnitude of the change affecting many math and language arts teachers. It's natural they have concerns about such a big, quick adjustment, she said during an interview that included other administrators.
More than 140 FWCS educators this summer wrote math and language arts curriculum, developing units and lessons for 140 days.
For language arts, the change applies districtwide except for middle school. The math curriculum affects sixth and seventh grades as well as students taking Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry.
“FWCS results on state tests have been pretty stagnant over the last few years so it was pretty clear to FWCS staff that, with the coming change to graduation requirements, we needed to change,” school board President Julie Hollingsworth said in an email.
“It is impressive to me that, rather than purchasing some 'canned' curriculum, FWCS chose to develop their own and pay their own teachers to write it!”
Specific feedback about what works and doesn't work is more helpful than feelings about the change, Robinson said.
Administrators encouraged parents to submit questions through the district's “Let's Talk!” feature. It is under the “Contact” tab at www.fortwayneschools.org.
The curriculum includes increased rigor and more complex and diverse texts. Teachers will use more excerpts instead of assigning whole books to read – a strategy parent Noah Smith has mixed feelings about. He understands it may only take an excerpt to teach a concept but questions what message it sends students.
Students began the school year with grade-level material rather than a period of review, said Tracy Reed, chief academic officer.
“Parents will notice right away high expectations that have been set for their students,” she recently told the school board.
Smith, whose children attend Snider High School and Blackhawk Middle School, has heard frustrations from various people. Students, he said, feel like their teachers are reading scripts.
FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman likened the script claim to how other programs are run, such as Project Lead the Way, New Tech and Advanced Placement. Each uses specific language, content and order, she said, much like the new curriculum.
Robinson understands why teachers – who are still adjusting – might read from provided information: they want to get it right. Reed agreed, adding that the situation reminds her of her first year as a teacher, when she relied on a teacher's manual.
There's still room for teacher creativity, administrators said.
At least one hope for the new curriculum has already proven true: consistent implementation benefits students who change schools mid-year, said Jennifer Mable, curriculum director.
An elementary school student was apprehensive about moving to a different school this week. However, she lit up because her new class was using the same text as her old school and “jumped in without missing a beat,” Mable said.
The curriculum should also benefit teachers.
“Because these (lessons) are complete, teachers will be able to focus more time on individual student needs in their classroom,” Reed told the school board this month.
Board member Steve Corona agreed.
“That's a very powerful argument for what was accomplished this summer,” he said.