Rhetoric Over HPISD Curriculum Heats Up

Months after a subcommittee of the Highland Park ISD board of trustees including board members and staff members was formed last fall to address concerns raised about how students are taught reading and phonics, the issue remains a hot topic at school board meetings.

The education services ELA subcommittee includes Bryce Benson, Maryjane Bonfield, Stacy Kelly, Wilson, and Superintendent Tom Trigg. 

Specifically, some parents have raised concerns about the Lucy Calkins’ (of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) curriculum for teaching reading and writing in kindergarten through eighth grade. Per the website for the curriculum, as part of the Units of Study, teachers lead classes in minilessons before students move on and apply the skills from the minilesson to independent reading, reading with a partner, or working with the teacher one-on-one or in small groups.

(READ: The Ruckus About Reading Curriculum)

“I’ve had several administrators tell me that one of the great benefits of having adopted Lucy Calkins is that we gained consistency across all our schools and our classrooms about what our kids were learning and that that wasn’t present before. The problem is we adopted a program that leaves it up to the kids to decide what books they read and therefore what they learn,” HPISD parent Blythe Koch said. “There is no common experience being had by our kids. There is no common knowledge being developed. These materials and teaching methods that we’re using right now are inherently flawed.”

Spencer Siino, a candidate for the open place 5 school board seat, went beyond criticism of the curriculum and called for the “replacement” of superintendent Tom Trigg.

A frequent critic of the district, Siino is also the co-founder of Park Cities Parents Unite, a 501c4 organization started last fall that campaigned for the district to phase out mask wearing and other COVID-19 protocols and filed a court petition to depose district staff members and school board members about the district’s mask policy.

“I applaud the efforts of the HP Literacy Coalition and trustees such as Bryce Benson, Maryjane Bonfield, and Doug Woodward, and any others who challenge the clearly failed curriculum,” Siino said. “While I support the calls from parents to remove a horrible piece of curriculum like Lucy Calkins, I’m calling on this board to address the root cause of the problem – we must replace our superintendent with a classical educator who will implement proven curriculum and prioritize our district’s limited resources on paying, developing, and empowering the best teachers rather than on failed curriculum and more administrators.”

Siino’s comments were met with applause by some in the audience.

District officials, though, previously noted the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions that began in the 2019-2020 school year and say they’re monitoring data, including literacy assessments, to ensure students meet grade-level expectations.

“We want to make sure that … students are able to master those and that the resources we have are doing what they need to support our teachers as they’re designing instruction for kiddos,” HPISD Assistant Superintendent for Education Services Lisa Wilson said. “We’re watching data very closely, and … when you look at our data compared to those around us, we had the slightest dips in some areas, but even in third-grade reading, we actually improved.”

HPISD trustee Maryjane Bonfield reiterated during a recent March school board meeting that the board intends to have compiled data and have a resolution to the discussion by mid-April. 

“I think this conversation has been healthy for our district,” Bonfield said. “We’re a district of excellence who’s always seeking to improve and we all have super high expectations for our students … so this conversation – I don’t see it as a question mark of have we failed anything as much as how can we do better? Is there something that we need to do better? I think whatever the resolution at the end of it comes to be, our district is going to be stronger and better for it.”

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, former deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order.

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