TPS math teachers get board support to return to teacher-driven curriculum

By: 
JACKIE KOCH

Math teachers Will Ramsell (l) and Kristin Hess gave an impassioned presentation regarding a change to the math curriculum for the 2019-20 school year during the Tecumseh Public Schools board meeting Monday night. Photo by Jackie Koch.
 

A sixth grade math teacher and a high school math teacher joined forces Monday night to give a detailed presentation to the Tecumseh Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education in the hopes of convincing the board to alter the course of math instruction in the district for the new school year.

“During teacher interviews in June I had two teachers approach me with concerns about the Eureka math program,” said Interim Superintendent Greg Lewis in his introduction to the Math department update at Monday night’s school board meeting. He stated that he told them if they could put a group of math teachers together who agreed with their concerns, he would meet with them. Of 13 teachers from sixth grade through high school, nine teachers showed up. “It was pretty unanimous, they weren’t happy with Eureka math and wanted to know what we could do to fix it,” he said. He suggested they come up with an idea and present it to him.

Compass Learning Center math teacher Kristin Hess and high school pre-calculus and calculus teacher Will Ramsell utilized a PowerPoint presentation outlining the aspects of a supplemental web-based math program called ALEKS, which stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces, that they said has generated much excitement and enthusiasm among the group of nine math teachers who have been meeting weekly to improve TPS math instruction. West STEAM Center teacher Jan Garner, who was instrumental in discovering the benefits of ALEKS, was unable to attend the meeting.

Ramsell began the presentation with a movie quote. “At the heart of every legend there is truth. A few souls unite to save their world. We can be heroes in our own lives, every one of us, if we only have the courage to try. Our fates were always intertwined, but now our worlds are joined as one. We need to repair our planets, work together if we wish to survive,” he said, reading words by the character Optimus Prime from the “Transformers” film series.

“When I think of a few souls, that’s us, and saving their worlds – that is our classroom,” Ramsell said. “Teaching is our world. We are very passionate with what we do.” He went on to say that his high school students can’t be successful unless they are also successful in previous math classes from sixth grade through high school.

He said the objective is to return to teacher-driven curriculum, which was abandoned during the previous two years. “We want teacher-driven curriculum,” he said. “That voice that we once had to be trusted to make decisions regarding our curriculum, and continue the trust that you have with us to do what is best for all students district-wide, sixth through 11th
grade.”

Hess said the meetings between math teachers involved researching various possibilities and options. She said they have the resources to use textbook-based common core curriculum for sixth grade through algebra II for the 2019-20 school year, and want to implement a supplemental program to ensure consistency in math instruction.

Hess and Ramsell promoted the benefits of switching to a McGraw-Hill curriculum that would allow students to have math workbooks they would be able to keep. Paired together, the ALEKS program would be able to assess when a student is ready to move on to another level of math learning, and the McGraw-Hill Reveal curriculum would use the same consistent language throughout the grades to help achieve the district and building-wide school improvement plans for math curriculum. “We feel that the consistency of the curriculum and the supplemental program would also benefit our students,” Hess said, adding that as a parent of two children in the district, “I can’t tell you how excited I was, not only for my students, but that my kids could get to use this.”

Ramsell said he felt it was necessary to point out how they got to the point of the presentation. “In the 2017-2018 school year, some of us met with (then-director of learning) Stacy Bailey monthly to start having math conversations as a district. The purpose of these meetings was to create consistency throughout the district,” he said, stating that decisions were made about the current curriculum, Engage New York, from the top down at the administration level, and not the bottom up, teacher driven. He pointed out that when a teacher asked if other curriculum options could be considered, they were told no.

Beginning in September 2018 Ramsell and his colleagues struggled with Engage New York, and in January 2019 he made the decision to create a separate email account to communicate with newly elected Board President Tim Simpson to express his thoughts about the district’s math issues. “I was fearful of someone getting an email that I was going to send out, and ultimately using it against anyone they could,” he said. “That was the environment many of us lived. I lived that, and I’m being honest, that is what we went through. I’m happy to say that is not the case anymore, or we would not be standing here right now giving you this presentation.”

Ramsell said he asked Simpson to keep the communication confidential and look into ending Engage New York. “Mr. Simpson, you have no idea how grateful (we are) that you listened to our concerns. You were giving voice back to our teachers,” he said.

“Working with Kristin Hess and Jan Garner and everyone else who could make it, this is what drives great schools. A functioning team has players playing their part in a sport they love and have say in. We need more of that,” Ramsell concluded.

After the presentation, the board asked several questions of Hess and Ramsell and moved to add to the action items the approval of up to $20,000 to purchase the McGraw-Hill Reveal Curriculum and the ALEKS supplemental program for a one-year trial, then voted unanimously to approve the purchase.

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