RSS to extend exceptional children curriculum contract

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, May 11, 2022

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education is expected to approve the extension of curriculum materials for its exceptional children programs.

The three-year extension of the district’s contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was added to the consent agenda of the board’s meeting later this month, meaning it is expected to be passed uncontroversially with a group of other decisions.

The contract carries a cost of $227,569 for all three years, and E.C. Director Elizabeth Mitcham said it will complete a five-year implementation of the program.

She walked the board through the features of the reading and math programs including that it is evidence-based, can be customized for each student and connected to goals in each student’s individual education plan.

Board Chair Dean Hunter was critical of what he finds sometimes when researching education companies.

Hunter said he wanted to caution the board whether they have political leanings one way or the other, because he often reads about education companies and finds things about them that have nothing to do with reading or math.

“I don’t think you can probably find any curriculum today that doesn’t have some slant one way or the other, culturally, socially,” Hunter said, adding he wants the board to be careful when it uses curriculum that it is not influencing children “socially, culturally, politically, but we’re teaching them.”

“When the website starts speaking of social justice and things like that, it kind of bothers me that thats a hurdle to what we’re doing,” Hunter said.

Mitcham said the curriculum has foundational principals of algebra and reading.

“We have not heard heard any concerns, but certainly there’s a mechanism for our teachers if they were to have a question or concern,” Mitcham said.

Hunter said the materials are put in the hands of professionals and they are trusted what to do is best for the students.

The district is purchasing program licensing for this school year and not print materials. Mitcham said the district already purchased the print materials the program needed when it began the contract two years ago.

In other agenda items:

• Executive Directer of Learning and Student Engagement Chanel Sidbury walked the board through the district’s updated academically and intellectually gifted plan intended to carry the programs through 2025.

She outlined the three focuses of the plan: Equity in programming and service delivery, consistency in programming and improved and improved communication with stakeholders.

Sidbury said the plan focuses support on middle grades, where AIG students saw the most significant declines in growth during the pandemic.

Sidbury said the district wants to get its AIG program demographics to be representative of the student population.

Board member Travis Allen asked how the district can create equity in an achievement program.

“The student would have to be able to perform at the level of AIG,” Allen said.

Sidbury said the performance is a caveat, but the program can be more equitable by looking at more data points to identify AIG students than a single test score.

Sidbury said a student may not perform well on a test but a teacher may see potential in a student and advise to monitor and nurture that student to determine if they should be identified as gifted.

“We don’t want to be stagnant,” Sidbury said.

• The board approved using the state’s standard alternative accountability model for Henderson Independent High School.

The board has to revisit the model for the school each year and in years past has approved the state’s model. Hunter and vice-chair Alisha Byrd Clark, as well as district staff, will visit an alternative school in Alabama this week to learn about a different alternative model.

• The board began the meeting by going into closed session and stayed in closed session for nearly two hours. Shortly before the board came out of closed session member Brian Hightower stormed out of the building. He did not come back.

Immediately after coming out of closed session the board took up moving some summer meetings. including moving its second meeting in June to the end of the month to line up with the fiscal year end and opting to not hold any meetings in July unless necessary. The board agreed to the change by consensus.

“It just looks so much better to see everyone cooperate in unity,” Hunter said. “Alright, as you can tell we had a fun closed session.”

Closed session is used to discuss confidential issues like personnel and information subject to client-attorney privilege.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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