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Curriculum plans change in Crossroads

By Carolina Astrain
Aug. 17, 2013 at 3:17 a.m.
Updated Aug. 18, 2013 at 3:18 a.m.

Jenny Gwosdz of Rowland Elementary, left; Kerri Van Manen of Chandler Elementary, center; and Karen Wagner of Hopkins Elementary, right, work together to list vocabulary words and correspond them to images at Kidz Connection in Victoria. Pre-K and PPCD (Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities) teachers created "make it and take it" crafts for their classrooms based on the new DLM curriculum.

The winds of change are fast approaching public school curriculum this fall.

Starting this year, schools will no longer be able to use up-to-date lesson plans produced by CSCOPE, an online curriculum service used by at least 70 percent of the school districts across the state.

Political opponents of the curriculum filed a bill in an attempt to ban its use by school districts during the past legislative session.

CSCOPE's opponents accuse its lesson plans of teaching students what they consider to be anti-American parts of history.

But before the bill could reach the governor's desk, CSCOPE announced it would no longer be producing lesson plans for next school year.

Lesson plan modifications come at a critical time for the Victoria and Bloomington school districts, which both failed to meet this year's state accountability standards.

When CSCOPE officials said they would halt the production of their lesson plans, the 875 districts who had grown accustomed to using the online curriculum held their collective breaths.

Then, when CSCOPE's old lesson plans were deemed public domain by the Texas Education Agency's attorney, those districts using CSCOPE exhaled in relief.

This summer, Bloomington and Victoria employees have worked to start anew with some direction from the old CSCOPE lesson plans.

"Each campus and grade level has been working on curriculum with their principals using last year's CSCOPE lesson plans as a guide," said Delores Warnell, Bloomington's superintendent.

Kathy Westerman, a fifth-grade teacher at Bloomington Elementary School, was part of the team preparing the district's lesson plans for this year.

"Every single one of our kids can learn," Westerman said. "I don't care if they don't speak English or even talk at all - we can teach them."

For someone to think that any part of CSCOPE is anti-American, "it would seem to me that would have to be someone with a chip on their shoulder," Westerman said.

The people most affected by CSCOPE politics are new teachers because they usually need stricter guidelines to follow their first year, she said.

"I could see where it could be hard and overwhelming for them," Westerman said.

And while Westerman thinks CSCOPE is a good tool, she said that doesn't mean teachers shouldn't bring their own creativity and style to the table.

Victoria school district's new associate directors of secondary and elementary curriculum have been working with each campus to develop a new plan.

"It works for us; we don't work for it," Sherri Hathaway, Victoria's associate director for secondary curriculum, said at a July school board meeting.

In that meeting, the board approved the purchase of new CSCOPE framework materials, which are still being produced by the curriculum service despite the pause in lesson planning.

Before board members voted to approve the purchase, Tami Keeling, board president, asked Carol Tippins, associate director for elementary curriculum, and Hathaway how much it would cost to build a new curriculum from the ground up with help from campus teachers.

The cost would have been overwhelming, Tippins said.

And as far as the politics are concerned, Susanne Carroll, Victoria's executive director of curriculum, said districts should not withhold historical facts from students no matter what the circumstances.

"I try not to get wrapped up in politics, but this should be about what is right for the kids," Carroll said. "You have to be able to teach students history by using actual world events."

The Victoria school district has used CSCOPE for the past three years, Carroll said.

Neighboring Industrial school district has used its own homegrown curriculum for the past two years, said Tony Williams, superintendent.

This summer, the district's teachers met to rework their curriculum in response to some of the state's rearrangement of the TEKS.

The TEKS, also known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, is a set of skills that the state determines are essential for each student to learn by grade level.

When CSCOPE first entered the academic arena, Williams and his staff sat down to determine whether the district would purchase it.

"We decided CSCOPE would be a step backward for us," Williams said. "We didn't want to provide a cookie-cutter curriculum."

Williams said teachers are more motivated to teach if they are developing their own plans.

"They start accepting more responsibility for their teaching that way," Williams said.

CSCOPE aside, other changes in curriculum are coming to Victoria school district's prekindergarten students.

Curiosity Corner, the district's former early childhood curriculum, was replaced by DLM, or Developmental Learning Materials.

The program was chosen to be the district's new pre-K curriculum after the district conducted a series of surveys during the spring.

In preparation for the switch, incoming pre-K teachers attended a weeklong workshop led by Michelle Yates, the district's early childhood education coordinator.

A pre-K core team took a look at the TEKS and tied it back to the new curriculum, DLM, Yates said.

The strength behind the district's new pre-K curriculum will be a newfound sense of consistency across each of its 17 elementary school campuses, Yates said.

F.W. Gross Elementary School previously followed a Montessori-style curriculum that also will be replaced with DLM this year.

"This way, we can all work to support each other," Yates said. "Pre-K is something parents should really take advantage of since we're one of the few districts in the state that offers full-day pre-K."

DLM has a stronger focus on team building, numeracy and literacy, said Robert Jaklich, VISD superintendent.

And for the first time, the district is offering a pre-K orientation camp, Minnow Camp, for students and parents to meet their teachers before the first day of school.

"It's about building relationships and confidence that will later be reflected in our business community," he said.



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