Westerville News & Public Opinion

With Bird on board, curriculum changes reviewed

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The Westerville Board of Education's meeting Monday, June 9, began with President Nancy Nestor-Baker swearing in its newest board member, Richard Bird.

On Friday, June 4, the board selected Bird to fill the vacant seat left by Cindy Crowe, who resigned on May 5.

"It has been a very interesting day," Bird said. "The level of support I've received since the announcement on Friday has been amazing, and I say that with a lot of humility."

As a whole board, members had a first reading on curriculum changes for fifth-grade science and preschool, both of which are to align with the state standards for the next school year.

Jennifer Knapp, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, said fifth-grade science content is more about symbiotic relationships and motion, which were originally introduced in seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

"The first 12 weeks of the year is fairly the same, but really the biggest change is the physical science in forces and motion. We're no longer teaching energy transformation. That's moved up," Knapp said.

Similar topics stick to fifth-grade earth and space, life and physical sciences, such as the solar system, roles in the ecosystem and food chains, and light and sound as forms of energy.

Other fifth-grade science topics are moved to other grades: renewable and non-renewable energy to third grade; environmental changes, heat and electrical energy transformations, electricity and magnetism to fourth grade; and thermal energy in sixth and seventh grades.

All subjects underwent some kind of change for the next school year, whether it was to align with Common Core Standards in math and English language arts or adjust to other parts of Ohio's New Learning Standards.

The science curriculum is one that is "homegrown," meaning the standards developed and changed within the state and were not developed by the National Governor's Association or any other national organization.

"It's only been the work of people in Ohio and it's the revised Ohio standards," Knapp said.

The board has approved curriculum changes for grades K-12, but now must adopt a curriculum for preschool. Westerville district officials overhauled the preschool curriculum in order to comply with Ohio Department of Education licensure requirements and ensure that children are ready for kindergarten.

"In order to be licensed by Ohio Department of Education, we needed to align with the standards by the start of the school year and have all those assessment components in place," Knapp said.

Prior to kindergarten, students will learn necessary academic basics, such as counting and recognizing numbers, abundance of vocabulary words, recognizing maps and properly identifying basic items on them, and introductory reading exercises.

Outside of academics, students also will learn emotional and social skills to make them kindergarten ready, such as managing feelings and thoughts in socially acceptable ways or interacting with peers in a proper manner. Students will also develop necessary cognitive skills for learning future subjects.

The biggest academic emphasis, though, is on reading.

As part of the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, a program that helps identify students lagging behind in reading, district officials worked backward to ensure proper literacy development from kindergarten through elementary school.

Students must begin reading earlier and the district wants to expose children to literature and vocabulary at a younger age to properly prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.

"We backward-aligned to kindergarten readiness," Knapp said. "Knowing what the kindergarten expectations are, we backward-aligned so we can comfortably say they are on track or not on track to pass the third-grade reading test."

As part of proper licensure with the department of education, the district needed to develop a way to assess students.

Nestor-Baker said she is impressed with its straightforward assessment guidelines, which requires teachers to observe and assess students instead of having any type of standardized test.

"Ordinarily when I read state assessment examples, I get really angry," Nestor-Baker said. "I read these examples and thought, 'Yes, this is good stuff.' This is the way early childhood is supposed to be assessed."

The board will vote to officially approve the curriculum changes at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Monday, June 30, at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive.

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