School district moves forward with new math programs

by Daniel McKay
Whitefish Pilot | June 17, 2020 1:00 AM

After six months of committee deliberation, the Whitefish School District is moving forward with a new math curriculum for its students.

The Whitefish School Board on June 9 approved the selection of two math curricula, Into Math by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for kindergarten through fifth grade and Big Ideas by Cengage for sixth through 12th graders.

A 14-member committee consisting of teachers and administrators have been meeting for six months starting last year to select and review different potential curriculum choices for the district. The decision for a new curriculum came as part of the district’s strategic plan, which sets a goal of achieving a guaranteed and viable curriculum as well as a goal for aligning the schools’ teaching materials to the district’s priorities.

Ryder Delaloye, Curriculum Director, said the process has come from looking at what students need to get out of their learning materials, then refining that based on teacher input.

“We utilize this process to make sure we are maintaining a guaranteed and viable curriculum. One of the best ways to do that is to look at the needs of our students, to look at the disposition of the broader needs of society, and understand how those relate. So we’ve taken steps to explore and understand our reality as well as the external reality of math programming,” he said.

While initially the committee strove to select one comprehensive plan, Whitefish Middle School Principal Josh Branstetter said it became clear that learning styles differed too greatly between schools.

“We really looked at a goal of a K to 12 program and quickly realized that the most beneficial for everyone would be two programs, maybe a K to 5 and a 6 through high school. What we landed on I feel really good about,” he said.

Mark Casazza, math teacher at Whitefish High School, said the inclusion of dedicated professional learning community time last year really paved the way for a strong process in selecting a new curriculum.

“In my 25 years of teaching, very rarely are you ever unanimous, but this was the one time that at the high school level everyone was unanimous,” Cassaza said. “They were really excited about the book, Big Ideas, which is not a whole lot different than Into Math, so it’s going to be a really nice transition from the elementary into junior high.”

Teachers will start exploring the new material as early as this week, Delaloye said, which came out of their requests to familiarize themselves as early as possible.

They will also engage in two webinar series with the publishers of the materials, and once fall rolls around, they’ll get to work one-on-one with publisher representatives prior to beginning the school year in earnest.

During the meeting, Trustee Jerrie Boksich said she likes the fruitful process, but wonders how this new curriculum and its promises are any different from previous changes.

“What I’m asking is how is this adoption going to be different from what we’ve done in the past with reading and math adoptions we haven’t had fidelity to?” she asked.

Delaloye said the change is the adoption of the professional learning communities and the structures that are now in place for strong review and tweaking of materials as time passes.

“I would like to think the fundamental distinction between what may have occurred in the past and what is arising now is that we not only have a very clear and cohesive curriculum forming, but we also have a structure by which to accomplish it,” he said. “I feel very encouraged by that as a strategy to ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

Trustee Betsy Kohnstamm also wondered if the turnaround time for training was too fast for teachers, which first-grade teacher Marni Thomas echoed.

Thomas noted that along with math training, she and her fellow teachers are also looking at new training in reading testing programs, new hardware and a new school come fall.

“It is very overwhelming to think of all the training we have to do and move into a brand new building that we don’t even get into until the beginning of August,” she said.