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When the Sedona-Oak Creek School District began its accreditation process through AdvancED, one of the first things the national accreditation agency did was conduct a survey among each employee to pinpoint the district’s greatest needs.

One of the needs AdvancED identified as an improvement priority was the district’s curriculum.

“The goal is ultimately to benefit our students,” said Deana DeWitt, SOCSD’s director of curriculum and instruction.

She transitioned to this new role over the summer, and has started working toward the goal of cementing a cohesive, comprehensive curriculum throughout the district. “To identify a viable, articulated curriculum K-12 where we know that we’re addressing all of the state standards at each respective level and filling in any gaps. We know that research shows that a written curriculum benefits students immensely. We’re also hoping that it will be a huge resource to our teachers.”

To that end, she’s organized a curriculum task force comprised of teachers from each of the district’s schools, who are spearheading the three-phase process to write and implement curriculum standards. During the first phase of this curriculum development plan, the task force spent the summer creating a curriculum map that will serve as a template to help each teacher write their own guides.

Nine teachers volunteered to be part of the task force, which is comprised of two teams: One with teachers from West Sedona and Big Park Community schools working on elementary-specific curriculum, and one with teachers from Sedona Red Rock Junior High and High schools working on curriculum for their schools.

“It’s an opportunity to engage leadership from within,” DeWitt said. “Because it’s not top-down, because it’s really grassroots and coming from within, the opportunity for success is far greater.”

The three members of the junior high and high school task force team are Elaine Vail, who teaches library and media; A. Jay Bronson, who teaches world history and structured English immersion for students who don’t speak English as their primary language; and Paul Pavlich, who teaches Spanish.

Each brings a different perspective to the table. Vail, in her words, has been with the district “since before the high school’s walls went up,” and has seen the district grow and change over the past 20-something years.

As a library and media specialist, much of her task force work is focused on examining the resources teachers have available to them, getting the word about those resources to the teachers, and determining where classes have needs.

“I’m really excited to guide the resources piece of this,” she said. “That’s invaluable to teachers, so they know, ‘Oh, I have a video on this, or a set of books on that.’” Bronson graduated from Red Rock High in 2005, then came back to teach after college and has been with the district eight years. He’s also working on his credential to serve in school administration.

“Being able to look at it from that lens of being someone who’s gone through the system and to see the cracks and the areas we can improve on, and to see where that leads,” he said.

Pavlich, the newest to the district, just started his second year at the high school, but has a 30-year career in education and past experience in curriculum development. The task force as a whole identified six key elements needed in a comprehensive curriculum guide:

  • Unit: Determining a sequence of instruction, time allocation and essential questions to guide study.
  • Arizona College and Career Ready Standards: Identifying standards adopted by the Arizona Department of Education and applying them to the classroom.
  • Assessment: Evaluating how students have mastered the standards and concepts based upon a set goal.
  • Academic and content vocabulary: Defining academic verbiage used both across all coursework and in specific subject areas.
  • Materials and resources: Compiling the textbooks, supplemental materials and other media used for instruction.
  • Differentiation: Planning to meet the individual needs of all learners, including students in need of language support, intervention or acceleration.

Based on these components, Barb Robles, one of the task force members and a sixth-grade teacher at West Sedona, created a curriculum map template for teachers to use when they start writing curricula for their subjects.

The task force will launch its second phase when it presents the curriculum guide during two professional development dates next month: Sept. 6 for the junior high and high school, and Sept. 8 for the elementary schools. From there, individual teachers will begin working on writing curriculum maps for their subject areas using the task force’s template.

The task force has scheduled four district-wide work sessions through December that will break up the mapping work into manageable sections. For the first session, teachers will have identified the unit and Arizona standards for the map they’re working on.

“As they say, when you eat an elephant, you do it one bite at a time,” Pavlich said.

The goal is for elementary teachers to finish the English and math maps for their grade this school year, while junior and high school teachers have the goal of finishing a map for one of their core content areas. DeWitt said on their current schedule, they’ll be close to 60 percent complete with a district-wide curriculum map.

“It’s that we want to get better at what we do, about meeting the needs of all learners and making sure we’re doing that with a viable curriculum,” DeWitt said.

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