Educators proposing readiness program for second-graders




At the USD 457 Board of Education Monday night, board members heard from a committee of teachers and principals from nine of the district's elementary schools, which is proposing that the district adopt a second-grade readiness program.

First- and second-grade teachers from Alta Brown, Abe Hubert, Buffalo Jones, Florence Wilson, Georgia Matthews, Gertrude Walker and Jennie Barker elementary schools, along with Melinda Stewart, principal of Jennie Wilson Elementary School, asked board members to consider a proposal to ensure that all students exiting first grade are second-grade ready.

The proposal requests that the board consider mandatory retention for students who have not mastered first-grade concepts.

The skills the committee believes are essential for students to move into second grade in terms of English Language Arts are as follows: having a solid foundation in phonics, reading with adequate accuracy and comprehension on a first-grade passage, reading 140 high-frequency words, reading 53 words per minute on a standardized test, segmenting 49 phonemes per minute on a standardized test and writing a complete paragraph.

The math skills believed to be essential include the following: writing numbers to 120, randomly recognizing numbers up to 120, showing math fluency by recognizing addition facts to nine in two minutes, ability to compare two-digit numbers, and solving addition story problems with result unknown.

Natalie Kondrade, first-grade teacher at Gertrude Walker, clarified to board members that they won't look at retaining a student who is behind in only one or two of those areas, but they will look at the overall picture to determine if that student should progress to second grade.

Stewart also clarified to board members that the standards are in line with Career and College Readiness Standards.

Amber Doyle, second-grade teacher at Abe Hubert, explained that their proposal would require first-grade students to score a minimum 60 percent on the rubric, which scores in the areas mentioned above. The rubric will be shared with parents so that they know what their children need to be concentrating on during their first-grade year.

Jesyka Perez, first-grade teacher at Buffalo Jones, told the board that aside from the goal of ensuring that first-graders are second-grade ready, the goal is to make the standards consistent across the entire district and to encourage parental involvement.

To help ensure parental involvement, the committee also provided a sample of a brochure that parents will receive, should the board approve the proposal, that contains exercises that parents can use at home to help prepare their children.

Board member Jean Clifford brought up a concern about the term "mandatory retention."

"One of my concerns with this and with the first-grade ready program is the mandatory aspect of the retention and whose decision that is," Clifford said.

She said she is in favor of having a district-wide standard, but added, "I do think it infringes on a parent's right to make decisions for their child, and I think that some of the assumptions that you mentioned are not able to occur for all children in our district, and so those children would be potentially at risk for being detained, and I do believe that there is a very long-standing, perhaps lifelong concept that the child has of themselves when they're retained."

Dr. Gloria Hopkins, chair of the board, posed the opposite concern, for purposes of stimulating further discussion.

"In true devil's advocate form, I also believe that there are long-term effects of putting a student in a situation that they're not prepared for," Hopkins said.

The proposal also says that recommendations for a child to be retained won't be made for students who already have been held back in kindergarten or first grade.

No action was taken on the proposal, but Dr. Darren Dennis, assistant superintendent, said a decision will need to be made by the end of the school year so that teachers and parents can prepare students over the summer.

In consent agenda action, board members approved a bid of $51,960 from Lee Construction, Garden City, for concrete improvements to Abe Hubert. The improvement will be the addition of a concrete play area, which will be located between Penrose Stadium and the school. The play area will include a basketball court.

A bid of $32,838,75 to Huber Sand, Garden City, also was approved for replacement of the Kenneth Henderson Middle School track.

In a separate interview, Charles Cawby, director of plant facilities, said the track has been infiltrated with so much dirt that excessive moisture builds up on it.

"We debated and this is our least expensive way of dressing it up a little bit," Cawby said. "We're going to grade it out and add the red, running cinder to the top of it, so it's not a total replacement, it's maintenance."

Cawby said it will make the track safer for runners, as it will prevent moisture from accumulating on it.

Board members also recognized the efforts of both the GCHS wrestling team, which won its second consecutive state championship in early March, and some GCHS Buffalo Broadcasting System students, who received 17 awards at the Kansas Association of Broadcaster Awards competition earlier this month.

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