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Curriculum review turns to English, social skills this year

Susan Dargie, WPS director of curriculum and instruction. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD — Teachers will be involved in the push for standard grade-level curriculums across all Westfield schools, administrators said on Sept. 20.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Dargie told the School Committee on Sept. 20 that 60 teachers participated in a five-day curriculum summit in August with Linda Jordan of the International Center for Leadership in Education on rigorous curriculum design, looking at standards and the way they teach them and assess students. The summit was paid for through Title 2A and Title 1 grants.

This year, English-language arts and social-emotional learning will be the focus of the rigorous curriculum design. Dargie said they will look at test scores and areas of strengths and weaknesses and do a resource review of all of the materials they have and what materials need to be purchased.

Dargie said Donna Mendonca, recently hired as supervisor of social-emotional learning, will lead the social-emotional curriculum effort. Mendonca described herself as having 25 years of experience in counseling in prekindergarten to high schools and alternative high schools, working as a school adjustment and guidance counselor.

“My hope is this position utilizes all of the skills I bring in an overarching look and vision for the counseling program,” Mendonca said, adding that she will be working on creating a common goal for all of the counselors of children first, and looking at the social emotional learning materials and resources.

Mendonca is currently on a listening tour, meeting all of the counselors in the schools. She said the schools are nice and have an “incredibly talented staff.”

“Westfield seems like a wonderful district, and I’m thrilled to be here,” she said.

Dargie said curriculum committees did the same work with science over the summer and with math last year, and this year teachers will be trained in the new math materials. She said the process will benefit both students and teachers, as curriculum maps will be published on all of the resources.

“The next step is to invite everyone to get involved in the curriculum committees,” Dargie said. The SEL committee will be made up of teachers, counselors and administrators, and the ELA committee will include teachers of literacy and English-language arts, as well as English as a second language and special education teachers.

New unit assessments will also allow the district to make the shift away from midterms and finals at high school level, a change that was recently announced.

“We will still have cumulative exams — those serve a purpose. Students going on to higher education will still have to sit for cumulative exams,” Dargie said, adding, “We don’t want to throw them out, but to fit them into the curriculum design process.”

She said the district already uses ongoing iReady performance assessments, which produce data that is available immediately in detailed reports to teachers and students.

“We also know that the 18 months of interrupted education made it clear we need to know precisely where our students are,” she said.

Dargie assured the committee that the work they’re doing does not mean lowering expectations, but instead increasing focus on the most rigorous standards that require critical thinking. She said the entire plan involves forming a curriculum congress to develop a grade level curriculum that is standard across all of the schools. The standardization gives teachers the opportunity to go back and reteach an earlier piece in the progression, if students are struggling grasping a concept.

She also said it is important that the work on curriculum design is coming from the teachers themselves.

“We’re making teachers a part of the process,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski.

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