March 23, 2018
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Curriculum change to shave jobs in SAD 53

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Five educational technicians will lose their jobs and another eight will see their hours reduced under a plan passed by the SAD 53 board of education Thursday that is meant to improve instruction for low-income students.

The plan essentially will overhaul the district’s Title I program in kindergarten through grade four, beginning when school reopens in late August. Title I is a federal funding program aimed at students from low-income families.

Under the change, the district will hire two literacy specialists and restructure the responsibilities of several teachers with the goal of implementing a new process for reaching students who need help the most. Eight part-time educational technicians will see their hours reduced

Anne Miller, the district’s curriculum coordinator, told the board that the new program will center on a “Skills Block” program of addressing students in small groups as opposed to one-on-one, as is the current practice. Another aspect of the proposal is an after-school literacy class for grades three through six. The program is designed to be less disruptive to the students involved as well as their classmates.

“It’s not a good thing when kids get pulled out of a class [for one-on-one instruction],” said Miller. “I don’t think our test scores are high enough.”

According to data provided by Miller, only 11 of the 63 Title I reading students in grades two through six met state and federal guidelines for their age groups.

Four of the district’s elementary teachers and one of the affected educational technicians protested the plan before the board’s vote. First-grade teacher Aaron McCannell said the Title I instructor in his class has been invaluable.

“I cannot begin to express what a tremendous asset it is,” he said. “I would hate to see it lost.”

Fourth-grade teacher Darcy Rollins said the educational technician in her classroom has provided one-on-one contact with students who really need it.

“I want you to be aware that this proposal will greatly impact the students,” she said. “As a classroom teacher, I can never offer a student 30 minutes of uninterrupted intervention.”

But Miller argued that a new program is needed that will help students not only improve, but also catch up with their peers. A majority of the school board agreed, voting 4-2 in favor of the change, with three abstentions. Because board members’ votes are weighted according to the town they are from, the final tally was 351-154 in favor of the change, according to Superintendent Michael Gallagher.

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