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Curriculum Committee hears plans for 'common core' educational campaign

Ohanian Comment; AFT members, here are your union dues at work. Of course the PTA and the AFT, partners in this PR campaign, both received big bucks from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Note that high schoolers "succeeding in military" is one of the goals.

By Edward Husar

The Quincy School Board's Curriculum Committee heard some details Monday on how a $75,000 grant will be used to educate the public about the new "common core" state educational standards and what they will mean for teaching and learning in Quincy's public schools.

The Quincy Federation of Teachers was awarded the grant last month to develop a communications campaign focusing on the new standards, which will be phased in across Illinois over the next three years.

The QFT plans to conduct the educational campaign by working in partnership with the school district and several local organizations, including the District 8 PTA and the West-Central Child Care Connection.

Under the leadership of a joint steering committee, individuals and groups will reach out to parents, businesses and local institutions in coming months to teach them about the common core state standards and enlist their support to help students meet the new learning guidelines.

Trish Sullivan-Viniard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the new common core standards will require "a big shift in how we are teaching" in local classrooms.

"This is the next phase in education," she said. "This really does feel like a critical moment. It feels like a tipping point in American education. And we're taking it very seriously."

Illinois is among 45 states adopting new learning standards and related testing based on the common core. The new standards are slated to go into effect in the 2014-15 academic year, but many school systems, including Quincy, are already incorporating some elements of the common core standards into their curriculums.

Standards have already been developed for math and "English/language arts," which encompasses reading, writing and speaking. More standards are still being developed for science, social studies and other subjects.

Sullivan-Viniard said the ultimate goal is to improve the educational delivery system in such a way that every high school senior crossing the stage on graduation day "is well equipped and capable to succeed in college, career or military."

She said the new standards "are not dictating what we teach." Instead, she said, "it's talking about the skills and knowledge that every child needs in order to be college, career and military ready when they cross that stage."

The community education plan will seek the public's support in helping students meet the new standards. This effort will include holding public forums, preparing posters, giving presentations to service clubs and other groups, creating public service announcements and distributing literature
explaining the importance of the common core state standards.

"We really need to enlist the entire community," said Mary Christensen, a literacy coach who serves on the Curriculum Committee.

The West-Central Child Care Connection will get involved by offering training classes to day-care operators on the importance to teaching preschoolers basic concepts that will help them be ready for school once they start kindergarten or pre-kindergarten.

"Too many of our children enter pre-k or enter kindergarten without those foundational skills," Sullivan-Viniard said. "They're behind the eight ball, and we have a lot of catching up and acceleration and remediation to do with those children."

She said the training programs to be made available to interested day-care providers will touch on "some really simple but powerful information that you need to know about developing basic language, pre-literacy skills and math skills that are just critical" to get children ready to start school, Sullivan-Viniard said.

Valarie Bordenkircher, president of the Quincy Federation of Teachers, said the $75,000 grant from the American Federation of Teachers is for one year only. But the QFT will have the opportunity to apply for additional funding for up to two more years if the first phase of the educational campaign is successful.

Bordenkircher said a project manager for the educational campaign will be announced in coming weeks, and the steering committee will be meeting on a regular basis to help map out plans for the campaign.

Two School Board members who serve on the Curriculum Committee, Steve Krause and Jeff Mays, said they were encouraged by some of the things they are hearing about the introduction of common core state standards. But both have some questions about how effective the new standards will be.

"We've not done very well over the last 10 years under No Child Left Behind. How is this going to change that?" Mays said. "I think a common standard is really what we need to do, and this is the right direction to go, but will it change the classroom?"

Quincy High School Assistant Principal Jody Steinke, who serves on the steering committee, said he's encouraged by what he's been seeing and hearing in connection with the common core standards. Steinke said he's been involved in education for 20 years and has seen Illinois adopt various educational programs, such as IGAP and the Illinois Learning Standards, which are now being replaced by the common core.

"What's different this time is - for the first time - this is about instruction as much as it is about curriculum," he said. "Before, it was always about the curriculum and what you're teaching - not how you're teaching."

Steinke said the new standards are exciting because "it's making us take a hard look at how we're teaching kids in the classroom."

- ehusar@whig.com/221-3378

— Edward Husa
Quincy Herald-Whig





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