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Academic Literacy Program Receives Approval From School Board

by on April 08, 2014 6:45 AM

The Academic Literacy Program took another step toward implementation into the full-time curriculum Monday night, receiving approval from the State College Area School District Board of Directors on a proposal that would expand the program in the next school year.

The board approved the proposal with a 5-to-4 vote.

The district-wide initiative is designed to improve students' ability to critically read, write, and discuss texts in a range of disciplines. The district began the program for seventh graders in the 2013-2014 school year as a 45-day course with the goal of transitioning the course to being offered every day in 2014-2015. Following a successful first year, Academic Literacy for eighth graders will be added to the core instructional program.

Jason Perrin, supervisor of elementary and middle level education, explained the benefits of the program to board members, citing the positive feedback he and other faculty members have received from students and teachers. A panel of teachers and representatives from area schools presented an overview of the course to the board during a meeting on March 17.

"This course will evoke students to do better in all courses," says Perrin. "On down the road, I think you'll have an impact on other middle levels, and see the benefits in high schools as well."

Board member David Hutchinson echoed Perrin's thoughts, and says Academic Literacy is an excellent way to incorporate "21st century skills," such as technology, professional development, and arts, into the curriculum.

However, some board members raised concerns about the application of the program, citing issues of scheduling conflicts, shorter classroom periods, and an increased budget.

With the proposed addition of the course, class time for middle school students will be reduced to 40 minutes from the previous 43 minutes, a loss of 15 minutes each class period per week. Extended homeroom, which normally runs for a half hour, will be cut to 10 minutes. In addition, a staffing increase of 4.5 full-time employees will need to be hired to lead instruction and assist the three current academic literacy teachers.

Board member Amber Concepcion says she has reservations of "an ongoing expense during a really big ask from the community," citing the tax increase that would result from the program's expansion taking effect during the same year as the State High project.

Laurel Zydney, a fellow board member, agreed and recommended that the board have more conversation with taxpayers and parents about their concerns for funding before adding an additional program.

Board member Scott Fozard says it should be a priority of the administration to find a way to include the program in the district's budget, and believes it's important to not let the State High renovation referendum impede progress. His comments were endorsed by board president Penni Fishbaine, who also says she sees the program evolving over the years and having a positive impact on testing and assessment across the district.

"We can't lose focus on improving student learning while we're also working on the high school project," says Fishbaine.

Soft opening of new Swipe attendance system sees success, challenges

Last week, State College Area School's unveiling of the new swipe attendance system was met by long lines and some unhappy students, but school leaders have been working to correct some of the main issues.

Principal Scott DeShong told the board that the ID swiping system, similar to those in subway stations, offers many benefits to students and faculty, including improved attendance accuracy, increased student safety and time spent in the classrooms, and more efficient communication with students and their families.

DeShong says 1,900 students swiped into the building by the time the first period bell rang on Monday, and called the system "seamless."

Student government president Frank Zang says there was a bit of confusion and frustration from students at first, but that was corrected as the week progressed.

"The first day wasn't perfect, but from what I've seen, its become part of the daily routine," says Zang. "We're seeing a positive change."

Emily Cherta, a student government representative, says the system gives the teachers more time to focus on the students and results in a safer learning environment.

"If I'm safe, then that's better," she says. "And with this system, I feel more safe."

State High Teacher receives national award

Robin Verbeck, marketing instructor at State College Area High School, was honored as the recipient of the 2014 DECA Advisor of the Year, recognizing excellence in classroom instruction related to business and marketing.

Through a network of educators, DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.

Superintendent Bob O'Donnell presented the award, and congratulated Verbeck on behalf of the board.

"Robin goes above and beyond what a classroom teacher does for our kids," says O'Donnell.

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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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