Brewer school undergoes curriculum audit

Posted March 10, 2011, at 11:14 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The School Department has done something few others in the region have dared to do — get an outside group to take a serious look at how it educates students and critique it.

“It’s crucial that we take a hard look at the services we have and look at how we can improve our programs,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said Thursday night just before a 200-page curriculum management audit was presented to the school board. “It’s a very critical look at what we do. No one in Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts has done this. We’re the first in the state of Maine who have risked doing an audit.”

The audit contains 16 findings and eight recommendations, said Judy Birmingham, a former school administrator who is the lead auditor for Phi Delta Kappa International of Bloomington, Ind.

Birmingham and her team reviewed the Brewer School Department’s policies and programs and any existing written curriculum. They interviewed staff, teachers and students, and they visited the school to assess how students are taught.

The findings and recommendations were made after examining both the curriculum policies and the delivery system, Birmingham said.

She started her audit presentation by saying Brewer is “a healthy school district that says, ‘Come on in,’” and is “moving in the right direction.”

The School Department has a lot of good things happening, she said, but to improve, “Brewer needs to pull it together.”

“To do that you need to have a written foundation, to provide a base,” Birmingham said. “You need to devise a lot of policies, plans, and procedures to provide consistency and connectivity.”

A written kindergarten-through-grade-12 curriculum, or work plan, will help align teachers so all students are getting taught the same lessons, and adding a way to assess or test both the students and the programs to make sure they are working is key to improving education, she said.

Aligning all policies, from job descriptions to curriculum, will help put everyone on the same page, the auditor said.

The other major flaws include the need to revise, update and sometimes eliminate board policies; to work on professional development; to update the “old school” budget process; and to create a new vision.

Birmingham described the School Department’s current vision as “vintage.”

The audit should be used as a guide by school leaders to make changes they think best match the district, Birmingham said.

Change is not something that happens overnight, Lee said. In fact, it was one year ago that he told the school board that steps needed to be made to restructure and improve the department so students graduate better prepared for the real world.

He said at that time that a curriculum audit was the first step in the long-range, five-year improvement process.

“It’s the first time I’ve been excited about an audit,” Lucy Girodet, Brewer High School English teacher, said after the presentation.

Kathleen Kazmierczak, director of instruction, added, “It gives us direction.”

Birmingham said it’s easy to see that Brewer already has accomplished a lot and is ready to take steps to better the educational system.

“We wouldn’t be asking you to do this if we didn’t think you could,” she said. “You do have the skills to work to the next level.”

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