The Sitka School Board voted Tuesday night (6-17-14) to adopt new math curricula for grades K-8.  The change was prompted by Alaska’s switch to new statewide standards.

The new standards call for introducing concepts anywhere from one to two years ahead of when they are taught now. The switch will require some adjustment, said Superintendent Mary Wegner.

“Because the common core is a grade and a half above what the current Alaska [grade level expectations] are…we have students that in a year are going to have to make a huge jump,” Wegner said.

The district has chosen two new programs to align itself with the new standards. In kindergarten through fifth grade, classrooms will use a curriculum called enVisionMATH. Grades six through eight will adopt a program called Math in Focus. Sitka High School has decided not to change its math instruction next year; the high school’s current programs were adopted more recently, and are already in line with the new standards.

The switch was over a year in the making, said Lyle Sparrowgrove, a former Blatchley Middle School and Sitka High School math teacher and administrator who ran the process for the district. A committee of teachers, parents and administrators previewed materials for more than a dozen different programs, and eventually chose three to pilot in each school this spring.

Sparrowgrove said Blatchley teachers were especially excited about Math in Focus, which is based on a program used in Singapore. The curriculum is more challenging than the new standards require. But, Sparrowgrove said, teachers love it.

“The middle school would not get away from Math in Focus,” he said. “We couldn’t drive them away from it.”

He was echoed by Roxann Gagner, a social studies teacher at Blatchley who also has two children at the middle school. Gagner said that initially, she preferred a different math program.

“But every math teacher at Blatchley praised the Singapore math,” she said. “So I’m actually really excited for that math program to come to Blatchley, and both of my children will be in those programs.”

The district will spend up to $332,585 this year to make the change. That will cover the cost of textbooks and materials, and also includes up to $120,000 to hire a trainer to help teachers adapt to the new curricula. The money will come out of the district’s reserve fund.

School board member Cass Pook said that she remembers the last time the school district made a big change in math instruction – and it made her nervous.

“I’m thinking back on when integrated math was adopted, and the pros and cons of that. And the board got hammered for it,” Pook said. “So, I know that you guys have done your homework…and I’m trusting you that this is a good curriculum.”

In the end, Pook told committee members, “you sold me” on the new plan.

Pook voted in favor of implementing the new curricula, along with school board president Lon Garrison, and member Tim Fulton. Board members Jennifer Robinson and Tonia Rioux were absent.

Sitka schools will start teaching from the new programs in September. The first statewide tests based on the new standards will be administered in April 2015.

Sparrowgrove said that choosing the curricula is just the beginning.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “These are quality programs. It’ll all depend on quality staff doing a quality job. I’m excited about them doing that.”

“The standards are ramped up,”  he added. “It’s a different world. Little bit of different world.”