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Common Core concerns shared during Massena school board meeting

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MASSENA — While teachers are working to make the transition to the new Common Core curriculum in their classrooms, one Massena Central School Board member wonders if that’s taking away from other subjects that are important for students to succeed in life.

“Things are being left out because math lessons are taking too long,” Loren J. Fountaine told fellow board members this week during a presentation on the Common Core curriculum.

Because teachers are focused on the new Common Core and fitting those lessons into their class time, Mr. Fountaine said he believes social and philosophical skills, which are also necessary to succeed in life, are taking a back seat.

“I’m concerned about it,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine, a parent of two children in the district, worked as a music teacher for several years before taking a position with New York State United Teachers.

Evelyn M. Fiske, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said she heard similar concerns from teachers during their recent professional development session.

“One of the huge concerns we heard was it’s taking so long. It’s taking away even from our ELA (English language arts) curriculum. It’s taking twice, maybe three times as long to teach what they say should be taught. Now teachers are feeling the need to rush because there’s so much to do,” she said.

“It’s going to take time for teachers to become comfortable with the curriculum,” Jefferson Elementary Principal Duane L. Richards said.

Madison Elementary Principal Alan C. Oliver said he senses a frustration not only with teachers and students, but also parents.

“I see a really good curriculum. A lot of times what those (frustrations) are tied to are the modules themselves and not necessarily the curriculum behind the instruction,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine said the implementation of the Common Core this year comes at a time when schools are trying to lower class sizes and give more individual attention while receiving less state aid.

“While the state is not funding us, they’re going to make us implement a new curriculum” while tying the results to the new annual professional performance review for teachers and administrators, he said. “That’s going to magically make the education system better.”

“I think we have to step back and look at what’s in our control,” Ms. Fiske said.

“You guys are doing a great job,” Mr. Fountaine said. “My frustration is not with the school system. My frustration is with the state.”

Board President John R. Boyce said that, as they adapt to the new curriculum, other areas of instruction can be added back into the classrooms.

“The problem is, how do you decide what’s important for kids?” Mr. Fountaine asked.

“That’s going to be an issue no matter what,” Mr. Boyce said.

High school Principal Patrick J. Farrand said he shared the frustrations.

“As a teacher I feel sorry for them. I don’t even know this stuff yet. They have to change on the fly,” he said. “There’s nothing there about business or technology or those skills that are so important to kids. You can’t forget about those opportunities.”

Ms. Fiske said that in addition to the amount of time it takes to teach the new curriculum, there are concerns that students at the upper grade levels are at a disadvantage because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn what is now being taught at the lower levels. Some of those frustrations were shared during the recent professional development day, she said.

“Teachers were very, very concerned that their children didn’t have the previous knowledge that was necessary to be successful. What are the skills that students are missing because they haven’t been in the program previously? We picked up children and tossed them into a grade level,” Ms. Fiske said.

That could have a negative effect in the classroom, she suggested.

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