June 13, 2011

Wichita board approves new kindergarten reading program

The Wichita school board has approved a new kindergarten reading program despite concerns from two board members that they did not have enough information about the program and that teachers may be rushed to implement it.

The Wichita school board has approved a new kindergarten reading program despite concerns from two board members that they did not have enough information about the program and that teachers may be rushed to implement it.

Read Well, a curriculum aimed at helping children develop basic reading skills, was presented to the board for the first time Monday. Superintendent John Allison asked board members to approve about $1 million in materials and training so kindergarten teachers could begin using it this fall.

"The timing is tight," Allison said. "We felt it was an issue we needed to deal with sooner than later."

Board member Barb Fuller said she was "upset because of the process."

She said she didn't know the district was considering a new reading program until she heard from teachers who had attended an inservice session about it in April. In January, chief academic officer Denise Seguine and other district officials traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., to see the program in classrooms.

"In the past ... we had some pilots and some teacher involvement," Fuller said. "I looked at some board policies, and as far as textbook adoption, I'm not sure it was followed at all.

"I really wish we had been invited ... to see what we were getting or looking at, particularly in this squashed-down model to get it onboard for next school year."

Seguine said recent test data prompted her to look for ways to boost early literacy.

This spring, only 44 percent of Wichita's first-graders met benchmark targets in reading, she said. She added that nationally, 88 percent of youngsters who read poorly at the end of first grade read poorly at the end of fourth grade.

"As we looked at this data, the sense of urgency really became more profound," Seguine said. "There is a need to move on this and not leave our students behind."

Read Well is distributed by Cambium Learning Group, a Dallas-based company. It was authored by Oregon educator and consultant Marilyn Sprick. Sprick's husband, Randy, created Safe & Civil Schools, a classroom management program the Wichita district adopted last fall.

Seguine said the new reading program incorporates recent research on early literacy and how children learn. It will replace the Treasures curriculum in kindergarten, which was adopted in 2007.

Unlike the current curriculum, Read Well is "mastery based," Seguine said. Rather than completing a certain lesson and moving on, students won't proceed until they have mastered a literacy skill, she said.

That means students will be grouped according to reading level and may travel to a different classroom or teacher for small-group instruction, which "will be a shift for our teachers," Allison said.

Board member Lanora Nolan echoed Fuller's concerns that board members did not have much information about Read Well. She suggested delaying the vote for a week.

"When we're talking about spending that kind of money outside our standard protocol, it would just give me a better level of comfort" to postpone the vote, she said. "Learning about things at the (board) table and voting on them that night is always uncomfortable for me."

Board members Betty Arnold and Lynn Rogers supported the new program, saying students can't wait.

"I don't want to see any more students not being able to read because we got sidetracked," Arnold said. "This is not a silver bullet ... but I don't think we should just sit down and not do anything. ... If this doesn't work, I'm willing to try something else."

The final vote was 5-1 in favor of approving the new curriculum. Fuller voted against. Board member Kevass Harding was absent.

Budget cuts

Wichita school employees, students and families will have to wait until at least Monday to find out what programs may be cut from the district's budget and which may survive.

Allison said he needs another week to work out the details of his revised budget plan, which he was expected to present to school board members Monday night.

"There are a number of logistics we continue to work through," Allison said. "I do not feel it is appropriate to bring a partial recommendation."

Allison's initial proposal included a little more than $30 million in cuts, the projected shortfall in state and federal funding for next school year. Last week he told board members the district will get about $2.6 million he hadn't anticipated, including increased reimbursements for Medicaid and special-education services.

Board president Connie Dietz directed Allison to continue working on budget options and present his recommendations to board members Monday.

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