10/14/19 School Board Meeting Guide

Monday’s school board meeting focused on proposed new and revised curriculum at the middle schools and high school. In some cases these are the first major curriculum changes in these subjects in over a decade! They include many important and innovative updates both pedagogically and in terms of focus on our changing world. I’m also happy to report that process the district followed in developing these revisions included teachers themselves in the relevant subjects, as well as district experts in curriculum and instruction.

New School Within a School Program

A School Within a School (SWS) would be a pilot program consisting of 25-50 students who volunteer to take a sequence of core courses together beginning in the 9th grade, along with a group of teachers who work with the students together. The program would emphasize project-based and personalized learning based on real-world projects undertaken with local community partners. The pilot would require an estimated $13,000 to fund non-traditional educational experiences and– ideally- a new teacher position. It would draw on– but not mimic– SWS models that have a successful track record in Philadelphia and State College.

District leaders are clearly passionate about the potential for this SWS pilot. And I share their enthusiasm for trying new approaches to education. But as I said in Monday’s meeting, I don’t yet see the innovation offered by SWS as clearly as some of my colleagues on the board. Many of the hallmarks of SWS highlighted in Monday’s presentation– individualized instruction, student-centered classrooms, project-based learning, social and emotional learning– are all elements of existing pedagogy and instruction that the administration has proposed or implemented district-wide. I thus struggle to see how SWS offers something radically new. But I’m nonetheless intrigued by the passion of those who wish to try SWS in East Penn– and who have spent much more time than I have researching it– and so I look forward to learning more about the pilot program before developing an opinion of my own. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

Secondary Social Studies Curriculum

Revisions to the social studies curriculum removes some of the repetitiveness of history instruction in order to make room for more modern history. It is more project-based, with more collaborative student work done in the classroom (rather than as individual homework done at home). And it will add a greater emphasis on information literacy (I specifically asked about educating students on the difference between opinions and facts). There are no new costs associated with the revisions. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

Secondary English and Humanities Curriculum

Revisions to the English and Humanities curriculum move the focus of instruction to a “workshop” model which is more student-centered. It emphasizes more writing for real-world audiences (rather than just essays handed in to the teacher), and incorporates a more diverse, globalized range of texts. There are no new costs associated with the revisions. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

Business & Computer Applications Curriculum

This department is proposing a new high school course focused on mobile app development. The course will guide students through the process from start to a final product. Offering the course will require a small one-time cost of about $2,200 to purchase tablets for testing the apps. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

Tech Education

This department is proposing two new courses. The first– Home Maintenance and Materials Technology– would teach students how to maintain a home and and complete common home improvements. The second– Engineering Design and Development– would be a capstone project for students who have chosen the Project Lead the Way sequence of engineering courses the district began offering several years ago. Offering this second course would require a one-time cost of about $4,300 for materials and supplies. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

New Student Intern Teacher Program

The administration proposed a new program for students who might be interested in a teacher career after high school. Students would be paired with teacher mentors and help them with instruction in actual Emmaus High School classes. Each student intern would also develop a portfolio over the course of the semester that they would then present at the end of the term. Watch here; presentation slides available here.

These curriculum revisions and new proposals are scheduled to be voted on at the next board meeting, on October 28th.

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