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Curriculum leads develop program for BISD

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The State Board of Education has legislative authority to adopt the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). These are the state standards for what students should know in each subject in the curriculum.
While the tests that measure these skills change from time to time (remember TEAMS?), most of the standards remain the same. It is up to each school district to develop a curriculum program that will help its students achieve the standards.
The Bandera ISD is currently in the process of developing just such a program, led by Director of Curriculum Gary Bitzkie, and four Curriculum Leads. The leads are teachers representing each campus in the district: Krista Errington from Bandera High School, Jackie Innanen from Bandera Middle School, Brittany Timmons from Hill Country Elementary, and Michelle McLerran from Alkek Elementary.
The vision for the program is to assure that "BISD will be a research-based, data-driven, student-centered district that prepares students to meet the multiple skills needed to face all facets of life," said Bitzkie.
The leads work with administrators to support teachers in "delivering rigorous, standards-aligned curriculum equitably across the district, supporting best practices and the fundamentals of quality instruction and quality assessment."
"We started in the summer," said Errington, "and we've been developing the program and training our teachers ever since."
Teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade have been meeting to work out schedules, subject matter resources and best practices. "We break down the state standards to what the teacher actually does in the classroom," said Errington.
The program is coordinated on-line for easy access by each teacher. "The plans will include not only the standards that must be met, but will also have materials for the teacher to use with students who may need to be working at a lower level, along with materials to challenge students who are ready to work at a higher level," said Errington.
"Our teachers are already doing this [teaching to different levels of mastery], so we wanted to see how to document that and do it consistently across the district," Bitzkie added.
The program should be a great tool for teachers new to the profession, new to the district or new to the content area. Once completed, the program will be easily accessible by computer for any teacher to see "the way we do things in Bandera."
Bitzkie said the curriculum program would develop consistency throughout the district. "We've got to teach the TEKS, so we break down the skills and say this is how you get there." The system should also help to make sure "our kids are college ready," he added.
Errington said teachers are already excited about how the new system has led to more conversation and coordination between subjects. History and English classes can easily make sure they are on the same timeline; a science teacher can quickly check to see if her students have the writing skills for an assignment.
Perhaps best of all, good teachers will still have the freedom to use their preferred resources and teaching styles. "We're all going to get to the same place," Errington said, "that's mastery of the TEKS."
Bitzkie has nothing but praise for the job his four Curriculum Leads have accomplished. "We're already using the system, but it will need constant updating," he said. Using teachers as the leaders for the program has encouraged other teachers to buy in to the program.
"It's not as intimidating to work with a fellow teacher as it might be dealing with a principal," he admitted.
Currently, all campuses are working to develop a template that they all feel comfortable with and that will implement learning skills. The leads continue to look for examples of best practices to plug into the program.
"We're also training on the technology," said Errington. "We want our teachers to feel comfortable copying and using the materials for their unit plans and daily lesson plans," she said.
This program is exclusive to BISD, but other districts are also developing curriculum programs with similar goals. "We have a saying in education," said Bitzkie. "We will beg, steal or borrow whatever helps us do our job."
He and his team will be happy to share what they are learning with other districts, while being more than willing to steal any good idea anyone else comes up with.