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Curriculum Costs for Nashoba Budget

By Ann Needle

Last night’s Nashoba School Committee meeting hinted at more of next year’s resources being devoted to assessing performance and managing the core curriculum. Center and Nashoba Regional High Schools also reported on their activities, and administration feted the latest national recognition for the high school.

NRHS received kudos recently from Newsweek magazine, which ranked it among the top 2,000 high schools in the nation. At 451, the high school’s rank was based on such factors as graduation and college acceptance rates; average scores on major standardized tests, such as the SAT; average scores on Advanced Placement and other college-level courses; and how many students have taken at least one of the AP/college-level courses.

With the year’s first parent/teacher conferences finished up earlier this month, Superintendent Michael Wood reported that more than 90% of parents participated. However, echoing earlier concerns from some Committee members, Wood agreed that 10 minutes for each conference is not enough, especially with ratings against state standards now added to most report cards. But, he cautioned that carving out more time “would need to be part of our school calendar and part of educator negotiations for an upcoming contract. More time on conferences means more financial resources for the additional time, or some other alternative.” (The district is currently conducting its regularly scheduled negotiations of the teachers’ contract.)

In another discussion on curriculum and standards, Wood stressed that a new curriculum tracking system is about to take center stage. “You will hear about it during budget talks in terms of where teachers are spending their time,” he said. Adopted about a year ago, this Atlas Rubicon online system is designed to make it easier for teachers to plan their curriculum around the core standards. It allows teachers to easily view the curriculum expectations of each grade level and subject in the core content areas. Other tasks a teacher can conduct on Atlas are copying the curriculum and customizing it to his or her classroom, making notes for others to view, communicating with other teachers, and setting a time line for teaching different aspects of a curriculum.

During her presentation to the Committee, Nashoba Teaching and Learning’s Cynthia Larson explained, “It is very new, in that as a ninth grade science teacher, now you can be sharing your curriculum [on Atlas] with a fifth grade teacher.” Colleague Carol Archambault added it should save time.  “You can look back and see what the context was, rather than chase someone down,” she commented.

Currently, Atlas charges the district $6 per student in the classes of teachers using it, Wood said. He did not have an estimate of teacher/student participation, or the overall cost.

Only the English Language Arts and Math curriculum for the district are currently on Atlas, and teachers are not yet required to use it, said Wood. However, he expects many more teachers to sign on once all subjects’ curriculum is inputted. For this, Wood said he will be proposing putting teachers on the task outside of school hours, probably in the summer, a paid job for anyone stepping up.

“I think we’re throwing a lot at the teachers at once,” especially as the district grapples with a new teacher evaluation system and core curriculum standards, asserted Lancaster Rep. Julie Fay. Wood agreed, maintaining that making it optional for teachers, and doing the input work outside of school, are designed to keep the pressure off.

News from Center and NRHS
Reporting on Center School activities, Principal Kevin LaCoste estimated that, though the registration forms went out November 15, 92 families already have signed up for 2014/15 kindergarten at Center. He remarked that many of these families are interested in full-day kindergarten, with the first lottery for this option taking place December 13.

In his overview of NRHS activities, Principal Dr. Parry Graham said he gave a tour of the high school during parent/teacher conferences to about 30 families of district eighth graders thinking of attending high school elsewhere. Graham explained that he was able to invite in-district eighth graders via e-mails and phone calls, but would like to figure a way next year to reach those middle schoolers living in the district but not currently in Nashoba schools.

Elsewhere in the district, Michael Wood mentioned that news reports on bus company Atlantic Express—which handles some of the district’s special education students —  have claimed the company filed for bankruptcy. Though the company could cease operations December 31, Wood said the district has a back-up plan ready to transport the students. Otherwise, he wryly commented, “Like everyone, we’re learning from the newspapers.”