Teachers prepare for new curriculum

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Lake Middle School's Kyle Duhon, St. Amant High School's Jessica Wilson and Allyson Watts, and Galvez Middle School's Tana Baldwin, from left, discuss science curriculum during a prep meeting for the upcoming school year at St. Amant High School. Freshman and eighth-grade teachers met to align teaching lessons and discuss ways to help incoming freshmen make a smooth transition to high school.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Lake Middle School's Kyle Duhon, St. Amant High School's Jessica Wilson and Allyson Watts, and Galvez Middle School's Tana Baldwin, from left, discuss science curriculum during a prep meeting for the upcoming school year at St. Amant High School. Freshman and eighth-grade teachers met to align teaching lessons and discuss ways to help incoming freshmen make a smooth transition to high school.

A group of St. Amant High School teachers met last week to help ease their transition back into the classroom in August and toward the coming switch to the Common Core State Standards curriculum.

Freshmen teachers met one day with teachers from local feeder middle schools to aid the transition of incoming ninth-graders, and the next day teachers from various departments at the high school met with one another to make changes to lesson plans and assessment tests to be more in line with Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards is a national education curriculum designed to bring states more in line with each other. Forty-five states have adopted the curriculum, which fully goes into effect in Louisiana for the 2014-15 school year.

“This is just to get the ball rolling, but it’ll give you something to work toward,” said Shannon Hudson, an instructional coach at St. Amant High.

A dozen English teachers sat around a table in the school’s library, discussing some of their questions and concerns about the coming changes. Schools in Ascension Parish are shifting rapidly toward the Common Core this year in preparation for the mandated switch in two years.

They discussed lesson plans, ways to make classes more rigorous and finding a uniform grading scale across all grade levels.

“We’re just going to have to continue doing what we’re doing, but do it on a deeper level,” said Brooke Miller, a freshman English teacher.

Sara Martin, one of several members of the school’s English department instructional leadership team, said teachers at the school hold similar meetings throughout the year and they serve as an important tool for the department.

“It’s vital to us surviving the Common Core transition,” Martin said. “If we don’t help each other out, we’re going to drown.”

Miller was also among a handful of St. Amant High freshmen teachers who met with English teachers from St. Amant Middle, Galvez Middle and Lake Elementary schools to discuss the 520 incoming ninth-graders. The teachers talked about students’ personality traits, their strengths and weaknesses, and subject matter to make sure the students aren’t repeating what they learned in middle school.

Lisa Bacala, the school district’s supervisor of secondary education, said the Common Core standards attempt to push the former high school achievement level down to lower grades and “raise the rigor at the high school.” Meetings like the ones last week are an important tool in that process.

“This is a conversation that’s been needed,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is to help the kids transition to high school and that they are a success,” said Beth Templet, the St. Amant High associate principal is who is in charge of the school’s freshman academy.

Dawn Gasper, the head of the school’s math department, met with freshmen math teachers Bonnie Bergstresser, Lynn Hepburn and Katie Robinson as the three young teachers began planning their 2013-14 calendars and setting lesson plans for the upcoming school year.

“We’re just trying to get a foundation,” Gasper said.

Students in Ascension Parish return to school on Aug. 7, meaning classes begin in roughly three weeks. Martin said because of summer vacation and graduate school classes, she hadn’t done any school preparation prior to last week’s meetings. The meetings served as a starting point for returning to “school mode.”

“It helps us know what types of changes we need to make and what types of changes we want to make,” she said.