Baldwin schools moving forward with new academic plan

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 5/15/17

During a recent special called Baldwin County Board of Education work session, Baldwin County Schools Academic Dean Joyce Woodburn laid out an academic plan for the board members comprised of four …

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Baldwin schools moving forward with new academic plan

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During a recent special called Baldwin County Board of Education work session, Baldwin County Schools Academic Dean Joyce Woodburn laid out an academic plan for the board members comprised of four major components.

Woodburn told the board she would like to see the board continue the system’s K-6 Scholastic Reading Initiative and expand it to all K-6 schools throughout the county.

Currently, the guided reading program associated with the initiative has only been rolled out to the Tier II schools in the district, schools whose reading rate was 33 percent or less. Woodburn said the initiative has shown great success in those schools just in the short time it has been implemented.

“Baldwin County had 11 Tier II schools,” Woodburn said. “Already, 10 of our 11 schools are basically out of Tier II because of guided reading and ARI intervention. We’re absolutely convinced this is a program that works, and we’d like to bring it to more schools across the county.”

Woodburn said guided reading was a way to reach troubled readers.

“The difference in guided reading is it meets the kids at the level they are at and gives them choice as to what to read,” Woodburn said. “Because they can choose, they get hooked and their reading levels have been shown to go up.”

Woodburn said six of Baldwin County’s schools were in the top 20 for most improvement following the institution of the program.

“We have people from the state level asking what we are doing in Baldwin County and trying to find ways to replicate it,” Woodburn said.

Silverhill Elementary was No. 3 in the state in improvement, exceeding their reading goal by 130 percent. Some other top performers included Elsanor’s 110 percent over goal, Elberta Elementary’s 92 percent level and Summerdale School and Swift School’s 91 percent goal level.

The cost to continue the K-6 Scholastic Reading Initiative, including training in guided reading for 81 additional teachers, would be $469,115.24.

Some board members questioned putting all of the system’s eggs in one basket with just that program, but Woodburn said the program could easily be modified if any issues arose.

“If it’s not working, we’ll tweak it,” Woodburn said. “We can’t keep throwing programs out the window. We need to be able to pick a program and stick with it for a minimum of five years.”

The next component drew some questions from the board, as Woodburn proposed a curriculum leader for each middle and high school feeder pattern in the county.

“This would be a person who will go into the classrooms, co-teach with teachers, introduce new instructional strategies and be on top of academic achievement at each school,” Woodburn said.

To launch that component, Woodburn said they would be asking the board to reclassify the ITS positions created under the Digital Renaissance initiative and morph it into the curriculum leader position, adding a new position for the newly created Elberta High feeder pattern at $73,991.51.

BCBE President Shannon Cauley had some reservations about modifying the positions.

“Do all of our ITS people know how to teach that curriculum?” Cauley asked. “When we’re talking about cutting positions and creating new positions, that means everyone has to be pink slipped and possibly rehired. I hate to think about people who maybe aren’t qualified for these new positions and have to go somewhere different. I’m not opposed to this, but it’s just one of the uncomfortable things we have to figure out.”

Woodburn said tenured ITS employees that were not qualified for the new curriculum leader positions would likely be transferred into new positions back in the classrooms.

The proposed academic plan budget also proposed eMints training for the eight curriculum leaders, at a cost of $44,000, and a new analytics platform for compiling and reviewing data that would cost $113,000 annually.

Board member David Tarwater said he felt the citizens should be made aware of what the costs are for the academics they claim to want prioritized by the system.

“Our citizens need to pay for this if they want better schools,” Tarwater said. “We’re piecemealing it right now. If anything, I fear we’re not doing enough to make enough of a difference.”

The board said they would continue to study the proposals and possibly vote on the parts of the academic plan at an upcoming board meeting.