Having just wrapped up the 16-17 school year, this is a great time to take a look back at the accomplishments we’ve made as a district over the course of the past academic year and to communicate some of the things we are looking forward to implementing in the coming year.
Reading and writing are central to much of the other learning that occurs in school. Without a strong foundation in both, students struggle in science, social studies, and even mathematics. A review of district data, in concert with concerns raised by specific parents, helped our District Leadership Team identify the need to (a) provide a different approach to early reading intervention, and (b) to implement a system-wide rigorous approach to teaching writing. Two separate educator committees met, piloted programs, received initial training, and identified best practices that will be fully implemented in the coming year.
In Reading, our Early Reading Intervention Committee identified a multi-tiered approach to reading intervention for those students who do not respond to “typical” approaches to reading instruction. The multi-tiered approach will include aspects of two research-based programs (Wilson and Orton-Gillingham) geared towards a multi-sensory approach to teaching reading. Each building will have teachers trained by Fall and working towards national certification in Orton-Gillingham. Initial implementation of this programming with specific students has proven to be very successful. Based on their research, the committee made recommendations for several other evidence-based programs and methodologies that will be woven into the multi-tiered system as this program continues to develop over the coming years. In addition to strengthening our early intervention programming in Reading, several teachers are heading to Columbia University this summer for training on a program called Readers Workshop. During the 17-18 school year, we will have several teachers pilot this approach and we’ll begin a conversation about how best to provide core instruction for all students.
In Writing, teachers at each elementary building have been piloting a research-based writing program from Columbia University that is commonly referred to Lucy Calkins Writers Workshop. In an effort to ensure that all students have access to this programming, the District is bringing trainers from Columbia to Athens High School in August. Every writing teacher K-8 will be provided a week-long training in Writers Workshop, as well as the classroom materials necessary to implement the program. To support writing in other content areas, teachers at AMS and AHS are receiving Collins writing training and will be working together to plan how best to improve upon our writing requirements across all areas of the curricula.
In Mathematics, our own district experts have received training on an approach commonly referred to as Cognitively Guided Instruction and has as a cornerstone in early Math instruction the use of “math talks” to help students develop a broader understanding of the foundations of Mathematics prior to introducing the standard algorithm(s). The August professional development for Mathematics teachers will include an online course by the nationally recognized mathematics curriculum expert Jo Boaler. In the coming year, teachers will meet to discuss the use of textbooks in our K-8 program and determine if a tangible series is necessary as a support for core Mathematics instruction, as the Go Math series we currently use does not philosophically align with the longer-range vision of Mathematics instruction.
Athens Middle School and Athens High School will each have at least one teacher trained in Project Lead The Way Pre-Engineering and Computer Programming courses by the start of the year. The District began implementation of the introductory Computer Programming curricula at AMS two years ago. It is our hope to expand the offerings in both of these pathways moving into the future.
To support all of these changes, the use of technology as a tool for teaching and learning has progressed rapidly in the past two years. Every building now has wireless capability, and we’ve introduced the use of Chrome-books at every grade level. At the start of the 17-18 school year, AMS and AHS will have enough units to provide a one-to-one computing environment for our students, and each elementary building will have increased capacity. Our teachers have embraced the broadened use of technology to support instruction and are practically demanding more accessibility. In the coming year, we will be working to develop a long-range vision for how technology will be used PK-12 throughout the District.
In addition to these many improvements, the Board of Education plans to continue the conversation as to creating a Facilities Master Plan that will assure that all of our students have modern, safe, and effective classroom learning environments that support the educational goals of our community.
Thank you to our students, teachers, parents and members of the community for the support and collaboration this past year. I’m looking forward to our continued conversation about how we define a high quality education and how we can best provide for an education that embodies the ideal of “Every Learner. Every Day.” Have a great summer!
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Tom Gibbs, Superintendent
"Every learner. Every day."