Local schools give parents chance to review books, curriculum

Some local parents will have a chance to review textbooks that may be included in their children’s curriculum, giving them a chance to offer input following what was a controversial year at schools, particularly in regards to what students are being taught.

Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools plan to host information sessions this week, during which school administrators will present options for textbooks to be adopted for certain subjects as part of a six-year curriculum cycle.

Some parents focused their attention on school curriculum and textbooks during much of last year, concerned that Critical Race Theory was being taught in schools. The theory originated in legal scholarship and spread to other fields of study. It assesses the role race and institutionalized racism play in putting minority group members at a disadvantage in society, according to the American Bar Association. It is often taught in law school, not in kindergarten through 12th grades.

Locally, parents of students at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools have spoken against it, though none of the districts’ curricula include the study of it.

At Franklin schools, math and social studies textbooks that may be used for the next six years, starting in 2022-23, will be up for review. Social studies was originally scheduled to be up for adoption last year, but the process was delayed a year due to the pandemic, said Brooke Worland, assistant superintendent.

Administrators and educators, as well as some parents on committees, look at student results on standardized tests such as the ILEARN and NWEA exams when narrowing down possibilities for textbooks, which in turn helps shape curriculum. The committees also reflect on input from teachers, students and parents on what might work best for students, and which areas they need to focus on more, she said.

“Part of our goal is to make sure we engage our educators and our parents,” Worland said. “I’ve invited a number of parents to participate in our committees. It’s difficult for families to make the commitment to attend all the meetings.”

As an alternative to being on the committees, which started meeting in the fall, parents are invited to join open houses to review textbook options. The first meeting took place Wednesday, and parents have additional opportunities to attend meetings Tuesday or on Jan. 19, both at Custer Baker Intermediate School. Parents will be able to review math materials from 5 to 6 p.m. and social studies materials from 6 to 7 p.m. both nights.

At Center Grove schools, there will be no curriculum adoption at the secondary level this year, but the process to finalize curriculum, books and other materials for elementary school reading is underway. The district formed committees in August to decide on which textbooks would best be suited to curriculum, and those committees will narrow down classroom resources to one or two publishers sometime in January. Afterwards, parents will be notified of a review period, during which they can visit the district’s administration building to take a look at the possibilities and give feedback. The school district will advertise that time period shortly before it occurs, said Marcy Szostak, director of elementary teaching and learning.

“We need support for implementation. We need high quality, engaging materials for students, developmentally appropriate materials aligned to Indiana quality standards,” Szostak said. “We need quality assessment resources within the materials. The technology piece needs to work well with our infrastructure. We also have a rubric to evaluate reading resources against the framework for instruction.”

Parent input is valuable in the curriculum adoption process, said Shannon Carroll-Frye, director of secondary teaching and learning.

“We have absolutely asked for their input and we have had parents who have areas of interest who choose to be more involved in courses,” Carroll-Frye said. “We absolutely work to involve the parents.”

At Clark-Pleasant schools, parents will be able to review textbooks and any other content the district plans to use for math at all grade levels. The review, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Clark-Pleasant Middle School, is the fourth step in a five-step process that culminates in the school board voting on new textbooks this spring, according to Clark-Pleasant’s curriculum materials adoption guidelines.

The district in November assembled instructional coaches, department chairs and administrators, along with Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Lovell, to review curriculum and potential textbooks and other materials. That group of eight to 10 people expanded to 20 to 25 people in the next step of the process, growing to include more administrators, including building principals.

The group developed a rubric to evaluate math textbooks, which parents, teachers and the community at large will be able to review Tuesday, said Kimberly Fifer, assistant superintendent.

The district adopts a six-year cycle for curriculum to ease the costs of textbook fees, which are passed on to parents, she said.

Math will also be on the docket for Edinburgh schools, and the district will alert parents of when they can chime in closer to the date, superintendent Ron Ross said.

Indian Creek schools does not have a typical approach to curriculum adoption. The district doesn’t adopt new textbooks, relying more on digital resources, though some older textbooks are still in use, said Andrea Perry, assistant superintendent.

Teachers work together to build curriculum maps, ensuring what they are teaching is aligned with lesson plans of other teachers of the same grade level, and means students know what they need to know as they enter the next grade’s lessons, she said.

“I think it provides a very 21st Century approach to teaching,” Perry said. “It allows teachers to collaborate and keeps things very relevant for students. Each building principal would oversee the approval process. Those curriculum maps are available for administrators to review.”