Board gives OK to second-grade readiness program




The USD Board of Education on Monday night narrowly approved a second-grade readiness program and heard updates about the iPad initiative at Garden City High School.

The board approved, by a 4-3 vote, a second-grade readiness program that will require students to master certain skills before they can move from first to second grade.

A committee of teachers and principals from nine of the district's elementary schools proposed the program to the board at its April 7 meeting, where committee members outlined the skills they believe to be essential for first-graders to master.

English Language Arts skills include the following: 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.

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

The program will include mandatory retention for students who have not mastered those concepts.

Board member Jean Clifford said that while she supports the program overall, she took issue with the mandatory retention aspect, saying that it should be the parents' prerogative to choose whether their child was retained or not.

"I still have great difficulty in supporting the mandatory aspect of this program. I do believe that this program can be implemented with fidelity with all of the other aspects intact, and not include the teacher making the final decision as to whether the child be promoted or retained. I think that is the parents' prerogative," Clifford said.

At the April 7 meeting, Clifford raised the same objection, also saying that retaining a child can have a lifelong, negative impact on the child's concept of him or herself.

At Monday night's meeting, board member Lara Bors argued that the opposite can also be said — that not retaining a child when he or she should be can be equally damaging.

"I think its a double-edged sword when we talk about it being a stigma to the child," Bors said.

Board member Gloria Hopkins said that the program will involve parents to a greater degree and that it helps bring consistency to the district.

"That's an important part of what this district does, and if we're going to move toward a model district, we need to be able to tell any parent in any boundary area that, 'Your kid's going to get a great education no matter what school they go to,'" Hopkins said. "This is in the best interest of the kids. This goes right along with the parent piece that our district has been wanting to work on for years — cooperation with parents and getting them more involved. I don't see anything wrong with this piece, especially because it's still in a pilot program. Give us a chance to get some data, let's mine it, let's see what success rates we have, let's see what failures there are. That's what a pilot does, is it gives us the opportunity to learn from the data that we do collect."

Hopkins, Bors, board president Tom Blackburn, and board member Alex Wallace voted in favor of the program. Clifford and board members Mark Rude and Tim Cruz voted against it.

In other business Monday

* Garden City High School staff members and the technology department also presented information to the board on the iPad initiative.

Layne Schiffelbein, instructional technology coordinator, and Casey Wise, instructional technology facilitator for USD 457, said there will be several policy changes for the iPads in 2014-15, including a change to the policy for lost or damaged iPads.

"Now that our kids have had them a couple of years, some of them are becoming more lax with that device. They're not as concerned about it. They may go three or four days before they tell me it's lost, and it makes it much more difficult to find it. So we're going to put a little teeth behind that, requiring them to turn that in as lost or stolen within 24 hours or we're going to start charging them an exponential fee for that device," Wise said.

Other changes include a server for staff that will allow their iPads to "talk" to their laptops without plugging them in.

GCHS Principal James Mireles shared some survey data regarding iPad usage at GCHS. Eighty-five percent of teachers rated themselves average or above average in terms of their comfort level with the iPad; 68 percent of students surveyed said they believe the iPad has improved their learning.

* The board approved the high school's contract with the Advancement Via Individual Determination program (AVID), a college readiness system that accelerates student learning, uses research-based methods of effective instruction, provides meaningful and motivational professional learning, and acts as a catalyst for systemic reform and change.

* In consent agenda action, the board approved an increase in school lunch prices by 10 cents each and an increase in school breakfasts by five cents each. The increase was requested due to a USDA requirement that all school districts perform a Weighted Average Price Calculation each school year to establish if meal prices need to be increased.

* Board members approved the low bid of $84,890 from Vitzum Commercial Flooring of Hays for the replacement of carpet and tile at both middle schools, Jennie Wilson Elementary and Jennie Barker Elementary schools, and the JD Adams building, where the Garden City Alternate Education Center is housed.

* The board also approved the low bid of $428,560 for replacement of portions of the roof at the JD Adams building.

* Horace J. Good Middle School and Kenneth Henderson Middle School were recognized at the meeting for being named as 2014 Exemplary Middle Schools of the Year by the Kansas Association of Middle School Administrators.

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