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School Board committee recommends policy change

ALBANY, Ga. -- Due to state funding being cut for first- and second-grade Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), a committee made up of Dougherty County Board of Education members voted 2-0 to remove the CRCT promotion requirement for both grades Tuesday afternoon.

Made up of School Board members Michael Windom, Anita Williams-Brown and Velvet Riggins, who wasn't able to attend, the Instructional Services & Accountability Committee was also provided information about curriculum changes, plans and programs by Curriculum Director Dianne Daniels and Superintendent Joshua Murfree.

One of the biggest changes for the just-started 2010-11 school year will be a new high school math curriculum developed by the state to move toward national curriculum standards. Instead of students learning algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2 during each year of their freshman, sophomore and junior years, they will now learn each of these collectively starting as freshmen. Each year, the skill levels of these classes will increase.

"You're taking all high school math areas to include algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2 in progressive levels each year starting in ninth grade, so they get more challenging each year," DCSS Public Information Director R.D. Harter said. "It sounds simplified, but the curriculum is incredibly challenging because you're teaching three levels of math every year for every student."

Teachers trained for the curriculum change this summer, Daniels said.

"Our teachers went through extensive three-week training in June to be ready for this new math curriculum," said Daniels, the school system's curriculum director.

Due to the new challenges in a subject that already causes many students to struggle, Daniels said more study opportunities and safety nets have been created to ensure student success. In high school, the third period will be used as a study hall to focus specifically on math support. Elementary and middle school students can use electives times or classes, such as music and physical education, to gain math support or for credit recovery after they receive signed parental permission.

"We're hoping to have our math classes as small as possible," Daniels said. "Not a 10-to-1 ratio, but not 30-to-1. ... We're trying to keep the teacher-pupil ratio (low); that way we can make sure they understand."

Daniels also said that students will be able to receive early morning and after-school remediation, and that parents will need to be more involved to ensure more success.

"We know this will have an impact on our AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and graduation," she said.

Williams-Brown was concerned that the new curriculum would cause teachers to have more paperwork and less instruction time. Daniels said that wouldn't be the case because of the school system's use of Promethium boards. The interactive white board allows students to answer questions on the board and teachers to show various tasks on the boards in an easy-to-follow manner.

Murfree said "clickers" that work a lot like remote controls have also helped students over the past 10 years, since teachers can gain instant feedback on whether their class has grasped a new concept based on students' clicker responses.

Improving communication between parents and the school system continues to be a challenge. Media reports either through newspapers or television don't always reach all families; many residents lack Internet access, and a phone service that can reach thousands of families in 30 minutes doesn't guarantee success because many phone numbers provided to the school system aren't current, Harter said.

Harter said after the meeting that 38 percent of the phone numbers the school system has are bad "and some of those are employees. People are just busy."

The school system established Facebook and Twitter accounts last year with a plan to improve community communications but never activated them, Harter said.

"We're afraid it would get bogged down with comments," he said. "We don't want to promote criticism when the responses represent a small majority."

Daniels added: "You really have to have someone dedicated to monitor those accounts to make it work."

Windom jokingly asked, "Who's not working?"

The Instructional Services & Accountability Committee also learned near the end of the 97-minute meeting that Dougherty High School has a fully functioning cosmetology program that includes barbering and spa services. Williams-Brown asked Daniels if students at the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center, the school system's alternative school, would be guaranteed places in the program. Daniels assured her that those students do receive "first dibs."

"That's great, and we appreciate you delivering that dream," Windom said.

"We are taking care of those students," Daniels answered.