Originally Published: November 9, 2018 4:54 p.m.
EngageNY is a math curriculum Prescott Unified School District elementary teachers have embraced, and administrators have high hopes will produce improved results for middle schoolers.
On Tuesday night, the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board approved expanding the now kindergarten through sixth-grade curriculum into Mile High Middle School. Seventh and eighth-grader teachers have piloted the program this year.
In the last year since the elementary program was adopted, District Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read said teachers have seen some big progress with student test scores on the AZMerit math portion. The curriculum seems to be a better approach to helping children not only master math facts but to be better math readers and perform the critical thinking and problem solving required with the revised state standards.
With the progress the elementary teachers have witnessed, Read said the middle school math teachers opted to adopt the program as a way to help raise some of the low scores that suggest general math students are struggling to master some of the required math concepts.
The board voted unanimously to approve the now K-8 curriculum, but not before one member let it be known it is not a particularly popular program with some parents.
Mayor and board member Greg Mengarelli said he has heard quite a bit of negative about the program, including from within his own household.
“The feedback I’ve received on EngageNY (from parents) is not good. There is a disconnect somewhere,” Mengarelli said.
Read admitted that the online curriculum is quite different from the more traditional math instruction.
This curriculum is all about “discovery, moving from the concrete to modeling to the abstract,” Read said.
“It’s a big change for students, and a bigger change for parents,” Read said.
Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore, a former elementary principal and math teacher, said the state’s math standards have changed over time and EngageNY is just a tool to help implement those standards that do involve more problem-solving activities.
Mengarelli suggested that more work needs to be done to help parents have a better grasp of how to help their children with homework.
Read and fellow administrators agreed.
Once teachers, students and parents learn how it works, though, Read said it makes sense and children achieve. All of the schools have arranged professional development workshops for teachers, and information programs for parents to help them better understand how the curriculum works, she said. More will be offered if they are needed, she said.
In the meantime, Read said she and Kelli Bradstreet, the director of professional development, are always happy to talk with any parent to help them as this curriculum does require a new way of thinking about how various concepts are taught.
Despite some of those reservations, Read said the curriculum is reaping results. She said students in the elementary grades this past spring saw their AZMerit math scores go up. Even better, Read said students are now better able to explain how they derive answers to problems rather than just recite answers without articulating how they reached them.
For teachers, both at the elementary and middle school levels, the choice of EngageNY came because they found it was rooted in academic rigor, fact fluency and better transitions between lessons taught in the earlier grades. This program was one of three that middle school teachers explored before selecting it as one that best fits what they want students to learn, school leaders said.
The fact the district now has a consistent, K-8 math curriculum is sure to be beneficial to students, Read concluded.
In other business, the board approved a foreign trip to Prescott’s sister city, Zeitz, Germany, a trip that is organized between Prescott and Bradshaw Mountain High Schools for what is expected to be six students from each school plus chaperones. This is an exchange style program where students live with a German family while they are in the country, and those students are then welcomed to Prescott and Prescott Valley for a visit. Much of the cost for the trip is subsidized through the Prescott-Zeitz Sister City organization, the high school German Club and tax-credit donations. German teacher Robert Ernst said the average cost per student for the two-week is between $100 and $400. The trip this year is scheduled for between May 30 and June 16; it is not held during the academic year.
The board also approved a one-day trip on Nov. 26 to a Claremont, California record studio for Band Director Dan Bradstreet and up to four students.
In the last two years, the Prescott High School jazz band has made two trips to California to professionally record a jazz album. This trip is required to touch up one of the songs before the album is released. Bradstreet said he has high hopes the jazz CD will be made available in January.