Above: Members of the ELA curriculum lead team, from left, Patricia Marcotte, Alexis Meyer, Neil Marcaccio, Maryann Crudale, and Karen Izzo. Missing: Dan Seger and Beth Cauley.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The School Committee in July approved a new English language arts curriculum that will be implemented in September for kindergarten through grade 2, with a plan to add higher grades in subsequent years.
The new plan answers one of the main critiques of the programmatic audit undertaken by the School Committee last year that looked at all aspects of the district. The auditors were alarmed by the lack of a district-wide ELA curriculum and said that needed to be a priority.
That wasn’t exactly new news to school officials, and some parents. At the time of the audit, East Greenwich had only just hired Alexis Meyer to serve as director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director), the first time the district had filled that position in more than 10 years.
To start the effort, the district formed an ELA “lead team” last fall made up of elementary school principals – Dan Seger (Eldredge), Beth Cauley (Hanaford), Maryann Crudale (Frenchtown) and Neil Marcaccio (Meadowbrook) – high school English teacher Karen Izzo, Cole Principal Patricia Marcotte and Meyer. That team spent the next few months working with the state Department of Education (RIDE), evaluating the current state of things in the district and reviewing various curriculum options.
They drafted a new ELA vision for the district:
In our schools, ALL students from all backgrounds and abilities will become skilled and knowledgeable readers, writers, speakers, and listeners prepared for college, the workplace, and civic life. Students with these fundamental literacies will be creative and logical thinkers, critical readers, compelling writers, competent speakers, and thoughtful listeners who will successfully engage in and meaningfully contribute to their communities.
Among the “key shifts” in ELA identified by the lead group:
- Reading will be a 50/50 split between fiction and nonfiction. Up to now, fiction has far out-balanced nonfiction, especially in the lower grades.
- Reading, writing and speaking will be grounded in evidence from the text so that students are able to back up what they are saying using the text.
- Students will have regular practice with complex texts and academic language.
In March, the lead team convened a 36-member task force made up of high school, middle school and elementary school teachers and specialists.
“We had a large representation of voices at the table,” said Meadowbrook’s Marcaccio. “It was very eye-opening, with a real diversity of perspectives.”
“It was clear from the elementary staff that this was an area of urgency,” said Meyer. “Buy in from there was quite easy. It was their wish that we needed more to support our language arts learners.”
The team decided to go with EL Education, a language arts program vetted by an independent nonprofit organization called Ed Reports, from whom it received its highest rating. The actual open-source curriculum is free. What the district will spend money on – $100,000 for the K-2 rollout – pays for teacher and student materials, trade books and lab materials.
Things have changed in the curriculum delivery world, Meyer said. In the old days (as in, only a few years ago), districts got their new curriculum materials from a textbook company and there was no independent organization like Ed Reports to vet the different options. Ed Reports makes no recommendations; rather it evaluates the available options and rates them as meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations, or not meeting expectations. EL Education’s curriculum meets expectations.
“We’re going to have consistency of content, rigor and instructional practices across classrooms like we haven’t seen in years,” said Marcaccio.
“Teachers will have the necessary materials and they can invest time in the delivery of instruction and learning experiences. That’s where you want to invest your time,” said Meyer. There are resources for children who are English language learners and children who are struggling learners, she said. “There are all kinds of resources that are built into the curriculum to support all learners.”
While the new school year is only weeks away now, Meyer said teachers know this is coming. The K-2 faculty (all all classroom staff) will take part in two days of professional learning right before the students return.
“The excitement is palpable,” she said. “The task force was clear – they are hungry for this work.”
Marcaccio agreed: “We’ve got a ton of momentum right now.”
For more about the lead team’s work and the new curriculum, check out their presentation to the School Committee here.
Join the EG News community – help make East Greenwich more informed! Donate by using the button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect St., E.G., RI 02818.