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It took 15 York City School District teachers a year and a half to completely re-write math and English language arts (ELA) curriculum at the K-8 level, which is no small feat. Interim Assistant Superintendent Michael Thew said such a project usually takes several years.

But the district's teachers recognized the need for an updated curriculum that more closely aligned with Pennsylvania.'s new Common Core standards, which are tougher than ever. Before the updated curriculum, teachers were using different curriculum depending on what they had been trained in by the district, according to McKinley K-8 kindergarten teacher Renee Miller.

For 18 months, the teachers, along with two consultants and occasionally a principal or administrator, met frequently to get the updates done quickly. Teachers would implement different points from the discussions into their classrooms and then report back to make adjustments.

As of now, only math and ELA in grades K-8 have updated curriculum, but the plan is to continue. Thew said that in the spring, the district will probably start looking at science curriculum for the same grades. William Penn High School saw updates in English, algebra and physical science curricula.

Teachers: Thew said teachers were the driving force behind getting the curriculum done so quickly. The group of writers would meet frequently and work evenings and weekends to get it done fast.

Miller said she decided to volunteer for the extra work because she's been teaching in the district for a long time — 31 years to be exact — so she knew what to look for.

Miller said the most important aspect of ELA curriculum is a balanced literacy approach, where there is a focus on all components of reading and writing. As a kindergarten teacher, a curriculum that focused on phonemic awareness, or an awareness of how sounds work together in words, was particularly important because it's a major skill that young children need to be effective readers and writers.

Miller said the curriculum she and 14 other teachers worked on together has a strong focus on balanced literacy. It also has instructions and guidelines for working with English language learners (ELLs), of which York City School District has a high number. Before, curricula tended to glaze over how to work with ELLs.

Monica Randler, a third- and fourth-grade looping teacher at Ferguson K-8 school, said she got involved with writing the curriculum because she had experience updating curriculum at her previous teaching job in Florida. With the old curriculum, Randler said, teachers would base their curriculum on the resources that were available to them. The new curriculum allowed the district to come up with a consistent strategy and then find materials that supported that strategy.

Randler explained that the new curriculum has teachers in the district look at the Common Core standard that the child needs to have a proficient grasp on and use the materials to support achieving that standard.

"It's a different strategy because you're looking at the standard as a goal, rather than just trying to get through chapter one of the curriculum," Randler said.

Miller and Randler said the new curriculum will help students understand and better achieve the new Common Core standards. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests were fully aligned to these new standards in 2015, causing a drop in scores across the county.

"It is definitely a work in progress," Randler said. "Just because we wrote it, it’s not done. You’re never done writing curriculum."

The curriculum: Thew said the school board was supportive of the rewriting process and also offered to purchase new materials that would back the changes as well. During their many meetings, the teachers writing the curriculum listened to several presentations and tested a number of materials from education services.

In December, it was decided the district would purchase materials from Benchmark Education because the materials best assisted the teachers in the changes they were making. New materials were purchased for the ELA curriculum but not the math curriculum. Miller said the materials come organized and laid out for the teachers, making her job much easier.

The materials and curriculum also have a 20-day period where the focus is getting children adjusted to the classroom and materials rather than jumping straight into new information on day one.

"They’re making sure that students really know how the classroom works before they really get into the first unit," Miller said.

Thew said the new materials are very nice, but he stressed that the curriculum the teachers wrote is the guide, while the materials from Benchmark Education are resources to implement the curriculum. Each week, the curriculum is clearly mapped out and is the same for every teacher in each of the K-8 schools. This helps when students switch schools within the district. No matter where they go, they'll be able to pick up right where they left off.

Thew said the district is excited for the new curriculum and how it will change the success of its students. He hopes the new curriculum will get students more interested in the subject matter.

"I feel it's going to increase their reading levels," Thew said. "The goal is that they're more confident, feel more comfortable reading, and that reading excites them."

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