By Tessa Raebeck
With school districts, parents and students nationwide debating the merits — and implementation — of the newly enacted Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), this week the Sag Harbor Board of Education and community members were given a presentation on how those standards will impact mathematics in the district, and across the country.
On Tuesday, National Teacher Examination (NTE) representative Lawrence Farrell spoke at the school board meeting about mathematical practices within CCLS. The presentation was the second in a series of committee workshops hosted by the school district on curriculum.
The new Common Core curriculum, adopted by New York State in 2011 for grades pre-kindergarten through 12, has “gotten a bad rap,” said Farrell.
Farrell, a former math teacher who has helped introduce the CCLS standards to numerous districts across Long Island, outlined the reasons for adopting the Common Core and the principles of mathematical practice that should be implemented moving forward.
“The reality is our state has adopted it and it’s ours,” Farrell said of CCLS. “These content standards are meaty, and they take time to digest.”
“Our country felt, mathematically, the world was gaining on us, to say the least,” said Farrell about the decision to move towards CCLS nationwide.
The CCLS program aims to better educate students by fostering a thorough, cohesive understanding of concepts, rather than focusing on individual activities and facts he said.
“Common Core demands fluency,” Farrell said. “We want your kid to know more than the procedure; we want him to know the deep understanding of what we want to do.”
At this time, there is not an approved textbook for the math curriculum under CCLS. Several parents voiced their concerns over their inability to assist children with their studies without supplementary materials at home.
“Aren’t billions of other schools facing the same problems?” asked Jocelyn Worrall, a Sag Harbor parent who also asked the board for more room in CCLS workshops for “dialogue and discussion.”
“Folks, if you think you’ve been through it, you’re not alone,” replied Farrell. “Right now, my best bet for what parents should do is wait for these modules to come out.”
The modules, half of which Farrell said should be released by the state this July, are not textbooks, but rather a guide for teachers and parents about what math curriculum should look like under CCLS. A textbook has not yet been approved, but Farrell said he expected shortly after the modules are released textbooks would follow.
Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone said he believes the modules will give the school district and community the initial tools it needs to be on the same page when it comes to CCLS curriculum for math.
“We’re going to be working on these for a long time, folks,” warned Farrell of implementing the standards for mathematical practice under CCLS.
“These years of transition — no matter what school I’m in — are painful,” said Farrell. “It’s full of pain and suffering while we’re doing it, there’s no other way.”
Farrell said in terms of mathematical practices the feeling on the national level was these standards needed to be implemented immediately, despite growing pains, in order for students to remain competitive.
Farrell and administrators said they believe once Albany releases its guide for CCLS mathematical practices, textbooks will follow, and quickly, making it easier for parents to aid their children at home.
“We don’t know what all the tools will be, but it might be good for people to hear that there’s a commitment to provide parents with tools, and to provide them in an accessible manner,” agreed Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board.
Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, stressed the need for parents to work hand-in-hand with their children’s teachers throughout this transition.
Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols told the group that the administration would foster an ongoing relationship with Farrell in order to smooth the transition process, adding that Farrell would be “getting in there and actually looking at instruction and how it needs to be transformed.”
“I’d be more than excited to work with parents who want to learn this,” added Farrell. “I’m not used to parents saying, ‘I want to know this.’ I’d love to be in a place where parents want to learn the background for Common Core.”
In other school board news, Barbara Bekermus, currently the assistant principal at Pierson Middle School, was appointed director of pupil personnel services (PPS), taking the position vacated by Dr. Lisa Scheffer, who will leave the district at the end of the month.