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Lebanon Board OKs New Math Curriculum

Lebanon — The School Board unanimously voted to approve the adoption of a new math program for elementary grades at its meeting Wednesday night.

The program, called enVision, includes instructional materials, such as textbooks, workbooks and computer software, as well as lesson designs, pacing guides and assessments to support teachers and about 700 students in grades kindergarten through five as they cover mathematical concepts required to meet district, state and national standards, known as the Common Core.

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Christine Downing recommended enVision to the board based on a year-long pilot project comparing the program with another called Math In Focus.

Downing said enVision would approach concepts using online gaming, pictures and cooperative groups, helping students to reach personalized learning goals.

Ahead of the vote, board member Hank Tenney voiced his support. He said the school district’s current program called Trailblazers hasn’t worked.

“We need a better math program,” he said. “Math has been a subject on the School Board’s agenda since I got here.”

Some objected to Trailblazers’ emphasis on ‘real world’ math activities over a more traditional focus on memorization and solving equations.

Lebanon parent Melissa Billings was one opponent of Trailblazers.

“I fought that tooth and nail from the time my daughter was in second grade,” she said by phone Wednesday. Her daughter is now in tenth grade, she said.

Billings said it has been a “long, slow, tortuous route to a new math program.”

Business Administrator Jim Fenn said the Trailblazers program was never “fully implemented across the district.”

Because teachers’ opinions of the program differed, some of them relied on supplemental texts for math instruction.

One of the things that “sold” board member Lori Hibner on enVision is the fact that “the majority of teachers want this,” she said. “People are excited about it,” she said.

Hibner, chairwoman of the school board subcommittee that handles curriculum issues, said her committee supported the school district’s recommendation.

Board member Dick Milius, also a member of the Education Committee, attributed his support for enVision to the fact that it will require “no fiddling” to meet the district’s needs.

Milius also pointed out that in order to make the new program work, the district will need to support it continuously.

“The work really just begins, actually,” said Superintendent Gail Paludi.

She said that the school district received “high quality training” from the enVision company during the pilot and said the firm’s customer support was a “huge factor” in the decision-making process.

The district used five criteria to evaluate the two programs: instructional design, content emphasis, support for students’ learning, support for teachers’ learning and needs of the school and the district, said Downing.

Nineteen teachers at Hanover Street School, Mount Lebanon Elementary School and Lebanon Middle School piloted enVision this year, while 20 teachers across the three schools piloted Math In Focus.

At a meeting at the end of last month, teachers reached consensus in support of enVision. Ninety percent of the educators rated enVision with 3, 4 or 5 out of 5, while just 71 percent rated Math In Focus with a 3 or a 4. Math In Focus received no ratings of 5.

In general, staff found that Math In Focus required teachers to reorganize the materials to align with the Common Core standards, while enVision provided a schedule and pacing guide, Downing said in her written report to the board, now available on the district’s website .

She quoted one reviewer as saying enVision allowed “teachers to focus more on how to teach the mathematics; rather than on what they need to teach.”

Downing also pointed to feedback from another staff member who said, “I feel enVision has the best scope and sequence and for lack of a better term, ‘infrastructure’ for the Lebanon teachers to successfully teach at least 80% of the students.”

In arriving at its decision, the district also considered feedback from 51 families.

One trend of note that emerged from the feedback was that neither program appeared to adequately address the needs of advanced students. In her written report, Downing said concerns about rigor might be best addressed through professional development with administrators, staff and families. She suggested the district hire a consultant to assist teachers in improving rigor in mathematics.

Downing told the board that the district took the process of choosing a new math program seriously, in part, because it represented a “serious financial obligation.”

She said she expected to spend $22,000 in Title IIA professional development funds for trainings to support teachers as they begin to use enVision.

The district budgeted $85,000 for enVision, said Fenn following Wednesday’s meeting.

The next step for math in Lebanon schools will be to reconfigure the program for grades six through eight, said Downing. She told the board that she’s working on a timetable for that effort.

It’s “one of my goals,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.