Two sides of Common Core shared in Fredonia

The Common Core curriculum mandated by the New York State Education Department may be getting quite a bit of negative media attention, but results are starting to be noticed in the Fredonia Elementary School.

In the first of a series of three updates to the board of education, kindergarten teacher Linda Kaminski, first grade teacher Mary Benchley, second grade teacher Stephanie Goot and third grade teacher Erin Clark presented what is going on in the elementary school with the implementation of Common Core. The update took place during the board’s Tuesday meeting.

“(Each grade) builds upon each other, which is really nice, because it keeps going and the kids are really learning deeper than they were in the past,” Kaminski said. “Thankfully, our district lets us adapt the curriculum, because that alone would be a little boring.”

“We just finished, at first grade, an astronomy unit, which you think with six- to seven-year-olds is nuts,” Benchley said. “However, at the end of the unit, the kids were upset it was ending. They could tell you the Sun was the center, they can tell you what an orbit is and what an astronomer is and why Pluto is no longer a planet. You can tell they can understand what they’re doing. They grasp the concept of gathering facts and picking out relevant facts and relate it to a main idea.”

Kaminski said she has students learning beyond three-letter words, which throughout her teaching career is something she never thought she could see them doing.

“I was in a second grade classroom watching the teacher just walking through, and after a lesson … the kids got up and hugged the teacher and said, ‘Thank you for teaching me this,'” Elementary Principal Amy Piper said. “I’ve never seen that happen before.”

The teachers concluded the time commitment has increased for them as a result of Common Core, but they are happy to be seeing positive results.

“Even some of my kids that are struggling can still write almost a complete paragraph,” Benchley said. “They’re so much more prepared, and they want to do this stuff because they’re interested.”

“I think it’s raising the bar,” Goot summarized of the new curriculum. “I was looking at the modules last summer thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’ But, when you tackle it, it’s amazing.”

However, not everyone was convinced on the merits of Common Core.

“I’m anticipating, not including the Regents exam, only 30 percent of our kids passing algebra this year,” high school math teacher Darrin Paschke told the board. “It’s devastating our children. The students are faced with a difficult curriculum that they haven’t been prepared for, and the assumption is they have learned all of the stuff since elementary school, but they haven’t. The background isn’t there.”

Paschke added every day he comes into work, he thinks of ways to “hurt fewer kids every day and try to make this better for them.”

“Anything you (the board) can do to urge the state to back off would be appreciated,” he said, adding what could happen to help is a change back to the original curriculum for the middle and high schools and phasing Common Core back into those grade levels once the elementary students get to that point. “I don’t want to lose groups of kids (as a result of Common Core), which could happen if something isn’t done quickly.”

Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said he understands Paschke’s frustration.

“You can’t make that assumption (the students have the background) and give them that changed test and expect them to do well,” he said. “That’s a concern that’s been shared. The main concern we have with the implementation process of the Common Core was the timeframe, and giving teachers time to develop the curriculum. The bottom line is we’re trying to do what we can to make the changes that are necessary with the people that can actually make them.”

The Common Core update will continue Tuesday at 6 p.m. with a report by Middle School Principal Andrew Ludwig.

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