Bethlehem Press

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

BASD-Summer work continues focus on early reading

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 by Heather Nigrone Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

As summer begins, most of us are daydreaming of pool parties, ice cream and summer vacation. But for the Bethlehem Board of School Directors, the theme of the summer is “Excellence Through Equity,” an idea repeated throughout the June 12 meeting of the curriculum committee.

While recognition was given for an excellent school year, the meeting focused on a continued commitment to students and families. This vision now reaches beyond the classroom, targeting family and socio-economic factors that greatly impact student achievement.

Background

Two years ago the district began a focused push on kindergarten instruction, hoping to improve the foundational reading skills. Data was presented at the committee meeting showing the beginning and end-of-year reading assessments for each elementary school in the district. Reviewing the data from 2014 to the current year paints a clear pattern of success. Immediately jumping off the page, Calypso ES amazingly ended the year with 100 percent of kindergarten students reading at or above grade level. Equally impressive, Freemansburg ES demonstrated the largest improvement, with 96 percent of students finishing the school year reading at or above grade level, a 78 percent improvement from the start of the school year.

Satisfied with the success of the districtwide initiative, there was a strong consensus among all present, that the current model is ready to be spread to the first and second grade teaching staff. This plan, to begin in August, would include a new first grade reading series, as well as peer level accountability and new training for the faculty.

Results show disparity

However, the numbers also demonstrated a larger disparity, outside the reach of kindergarten instruction. At the beginning of the 2016 school year, only 46 percent of the kindergarten class was reading at grade level, a notable decline from the previous two years. While most school districts begin working with students the minute they step into a kindergarten classroom, the BASD wants to reach further and impact students well before that first big day.

The plan

In order to extend a hand to future students, a comprehensive plan was set forth, to begin in August. The district will be using the existing PTA structure to seek out each and every pre-k provider in the district, no matter how small. The goal of the plan is to get students, families and providers in the door and face to face with teachers, teaching methods, and learning exercises parents can practice at home. The plan includes a combination of daytime classroom and evening literacy sessions, throughout the school year. Interested parents and pre-k providers are encouraged to communicate with their local PTA, and be on the lookout for the planned detailed materials.

The final talking point of the evening was again focused on the idea of excellence through equity. The board has great concern with minimizing the impact outside forces in a students’ life can have on their school attendance, performance, and overall behavior.

At risk children

The board welcomed President and CEO of Communities in Schools Timothy Mulligan to discuss a proposed program aimed at helping the most at-risk students in the district. Communities in Schools currently partners with multiple schools throughout the Lehigh Valley, and Mulligan began his presentation by recounting the success story of a recent local high school graduate. Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy mentioned that the program has come very highly recommended from his colleagues in both Easton and Allentown.

Program funding

Roy indicated the program would be rolled out using funds the district was able to save from a recent change in literacy materials. The schools selected to begin the program were Broughal MS, which represented the highest need for support; and Fountain Hill ES, which is currently the largest elementary school in the district.

The portfolio of services offered would be aimed at both the whole school to combat issues such as bullying, with smaller groups for topics such as suicide, decision making skills, and sexual identity issues. The final and largest component of the program is to offer one-on-one case management to students facing the largest barriers to success within the school. Board members, guidance counselors and principals were all present to echo their support and excitement to begin this approach.

Broughal MS Principal Rick Amato spoke passionately about his personal view that every time a student in his school acts out and gets sent to his office, he doesn’t view the situation as bad behavior, he sees it as a cry for help, and is eager to have the additional tools necessary to support his students.

Board Director Tom Thomasik agreed that “every child we lose as a dropout is like a defeat” and hopes that the program will be successful in reducing middle school and high school drop out rates. It was discussed that this type of model is the way the schools of the future will have to operate, and as Director Eugene McKeon articulated, it is time the District recognized outside influences and the limitations on resources, and began reaching outside and into the home environment, all in an effort to improve the educational experience of their students. The contract for these services will be presented at the Board Finance Committee meeting on June 19, and if the plan is successful in the 2017-18 school year, it will be considered for expansion throughout the District.