Teachers laud new reading program

SARANAC LAKE — A new program is raising reading scores in the Saranac Lake elementary schools. On Wednesday, teachers from Petrova and Bloomingdale Elementary schools described the effects of the Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts (Amplify CKLA) curriculum on several classrooms that have piloted it.

Petrova school principal Bryan Munn told the school board the Amplify CKLA curriculum improves on other reading programs.

“We were seeing gaps in our students’ knowledge the older they got, especially in the area of phonics. This was a program that came highly recommended and addressed those deficits,” said Munn.

Munn said the Amplify CKLA program is being used in tandem with an assessment tool, Fast Bridge. Fast Bridge is a separate program for measuring students’ learning progress.

“Paired with the Fast Bridge data we’re able to pinpoint the exact area where a student has a deficit and address that immediately,” said Munn. The program has been piloted in three Petrova classrooms, kindergarten to third grade, and one Bloomingdale classroom.

Erika Bezio, who has been using Amplify CKLA in her Bloomingdale class, said, “(Amplify) CKLA provides rigor, relevance and engagement. It provides students the opportunity to practice the skills they were just taught. They beg me to find out what happens next. We actually have to tell them to stop reading! And the children who are sometimes the lowest performers are the ones most engaged.”

The Amplify CKLA curriculum encourages vocabulary building and incorporates discussions with teachers into the daily lesson plans. It uses games, pictures and phonics to get students ready to read.

“I think the kindergarten teachers were really nervous because they don’t teach any letters for a long time, then they do lots of letters in a day,” said Donna Kleist, who teaches special education. Kleist, like the other teachers who contributed testaments, said all the classes using CKLA are seeing exceptional growth. Kleist used the Fast Bridge data to compare classes doing CKLA with ones that are using the older curriculum.

“The kids really like it,” said Kleist.

“I can really see the differences popping up now,” said Kara Munn, who provides academic intervention services for students who may need extra help. “I feel like we’re seeing the progress faster.” Munn said the program gives students a good foundation in basic skills, especially phonics.

School board member Jeremy Evans testified to his personal experience with the Amplify CKLA program, saying it not only helped a student he knows to progress, but measured that progress in an objective way.

Principal Munn said he would like to implement Amplify CKLA next year for all students in grades kindergarten through third. He invited board members to visit classrooms and see how the program is working during the next two weeks.

Superintendent of schools Diane Fox said the program has already been included in next year’s budget. This year the program was partly grant funded. The total cost of $48,000 was halved; the district’s cost was $24,000. The project’s cost for next year is projected to be $60,000.

Fox said the teachers brought the Amplify CKLA program to the school. “This was teacher driven; they were looking at our data to understand why our kids were struggling. A group of teachers went out to schools in surrounding areas to find out what was working. They’ve brought back a great gift to our district.”

The next project, said Munn, is getting a better math curriculum. “We have a core group of teachers who represent all grade levels, who go out looking for different programs.

“No district is saying, ‘This is the math program,'” said Munn. “Thirty different schools are all doing something different.”

Munn said next year the district could pilot several different math programs and see what works best. “They have to be similar enough that the language remains the same.”

Totaled bus, student walkout

In other business before the school board Wednesday night, Fox said a bus involved in the collision on Forest Home Road Feb. 5 has been deemed “a total loss” by the district’s insurance company. Insurance will pay almost $64,000 for a new bus, but new busses cost around $100,000, so there may need to be another bus added to next year’s budget.

Fox addressed the planned student walkout at Saranac Lake High School on March 14. Students across the nation are walking out of class on that day to express solidarity with the survivors of the Parkland school shooting, in which 17 people were killed by a man who had been reported to the police numerous times for violent behavior.

The students were originally planning to walk outside for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim. However, administrators opposed that plan. “We’ve asked them to stay inside,” said Fox.

Fox said she’d received a phone call from an irate parent who said the #NeverAgain movement founded by the Parkland survivors “is in favor of gun control.”

An assembly that one student offered to organize that would bring students together to discuss the Parkland shootings and other school massacres has also been discouraged. “We felt it was a little early,” said Fox. “April would be better.”