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$1 million curriculum proposal gets full hearing before Waterloo school board

$1 million curriculum proposal gets full hearing before Waterloo school board

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WATERLOO — After its purchase was pulled from a prior Board of Education meeting, the case for an elementary school literacy curriculum got a full hearing Thursday.

The board held a two-hour work session to learn more about the Fountas and Pinnell Classroom curriculum that would cost Waterloo Community Schools $1.18 million to adopt for its kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

It had been on the agenda of an April 13 board meeting, but was taken off that morning at the request of members.

“There were some questions from the school board,” said Superintendent Jane Lindaman. She noted that the curriculum has a big price tag and a number of community members had raised concerns about the content. So, the work session was planned to ensure board members felt comfortable with the proposed adoption.

A committee made up of district educators spent two years studying the needs of Waterloo Schools’ students, reviewing the research and examining curriculum choices before making the recommendation. A special meeting could be held next week to ensure, if it is adopted, the district will be able to order materials and complete professional development before the start of classes this fall.

If that doesn’t happen, Lindaman said, officials will not pursue a mid-year implementation of new curriculum. “This is hundreds of teachers, so we just can’t do that,” she noted.

Officials say the proposed curriculum is one component of a comprehensive approach to teaching literacy in the district. Students learn through word study or phonics; a number of approaches to reading like shared, guided and independent reading; reading aloud in class; and writing.

Some media reports have connected Fountas and Pinnell products to “whole language” literacy. That doesn’t focus on breaking down and decoding words by sounding them out as in a phonics approach.

Stephanie Mohorne, associate superintendent for educational services, noted years ago as a teacher she was trained in the whole language approach, but no longer believes it is effective. “There’s no way I would support this if it had anything to do with whole language,” she said.

Lindaman suggested that concerns voiced by Waterloo Schools’ parents about Fountas and Pinnell were over its own phonics curriculum. She noted, though, that’s not part of what the district proposed purchasing.

Three years ago, the board adopted what Lindaman said is a better “foundational skills” or phonics curriculum, Really Great Reading. Two years ago, the board adopted another curricular piece, Patterns of Power. Between that and the proposed purchase, the materials add a focus on skills like language and reading comprehension that are essential to the district’s approach.

The Fountas and Pinnell purchase would replace a 12-year-old curriculum adopted before the Iowa Core Standards were in place. As a result, it doesn’t meet all the standards and needs to be supplemented by “quite a bit” of other materials, said Lindaman.

“With this we are really looking at the needs of every single student,” said Jen Hartman, director of elementary education. The curriculum includes $1.08 million for instructional materials and $99,991 for classroom libraries that will ensure consistency across district elementary schools.

“The teachers are now all going to have the same resources,” said Hartman, which will allow them to differentiate instruction for students with varying needs. She added that the curriculum includes a “phenomenal” assessment component that will help determine those needs.

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Staff Writer

After 18-plus years reporting on local education, I’ve graduated to covering the city of Cedar Falls. Family and church commitments keep me busy outside of work along with lots of biking, rowing and skiing – pretty good for a guy with fake hips.

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