Douglas school district tries to bridge rift from controversial curriculum
Tribune News Service
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – Despite strong opinions on both sides of the SpringBoard debate, English teachers and administrators have been working together over the first semester to find common ground and make the controversial curriculum work better for all parties, according to district officials.
“How to manage that wriggle room has been pretty positive overall,” said Director of Curriculum Kerry Pope.
She said the district has been flexible with teachers to make adjustments where necessary.
For example, instructors of senior English can now teach either Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” or “Othello.” Teachers of sophomore English can substitute the designated novel, “Things Fall Apart,” with “Children of the River.”
“There has been a move to give and take, to listen and support teachers with the resources they need,” Pope said. “There’s more of a calm sense this year, people saying, ‘let’s move forward.'”
At the same time, Pope admits there are still fractures in the community caused by the SpringBoard debate last summer. There are still strong differences of opinion regarding the effectiveness of the curriculum.
“I have two sons studying it right now at CVMS, and they don’t have happy things to say,” said parent Susan Frost. “They think it’s boring. As a parent, I want my child to be challenged and engaged in learning. I want the best for my child.”
Frost, accompanied by daughter Megan Frost, a Douglas High speech and debate star, was the only parent who showed up to a preview night on Jan. 4 for the senior English SpringBoard text.
In June, school board members voted 5-2 to adopt SpringBoard in grades 7-11 and pilot the program in senior English. In October, the State Board of Education voted 8-1 to add SpringBoard to the list of approved texts.
Now, the senior text is up for adoption, slated to go before Douglas school board members in February.
Parents and community members still have time to provide input. Residents can go straight to the district office, 1638 Mono Ave., Minden, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to fill out a survey and comment sheet.
“SpringBoard is thematically based, not genre-based,” Pope said. “It’s a huge shift in teaching English. There were hurt feelings. I won’t pretend for a second that all those hurt feelings have gone away, but I believe we can work together to make SpringBoard more palatable to those on the front lines.”
Laura Parks, assistant principal of Douglas High School, said she’s not worried about instruction itself, but rather about morale among staff members.
“As soon they find their passion again, I know we can get to where we need to go,” she said.
Parks said the district has excellent English teachers. But she said they felt slighted by the change, as if their previous work had no value. She hopes they will embrace the good qualities of the new curriculum.
“They’re too smart not to make the most out of it,” she said. “There’s now a lot of support, e-mails going back and forth, and a lot of collaboration.”
Assistant Superintendent Lyn Gorrindo said aligning English curriculum in the secondary grade levels has allowed teachers to work together in new ways.
“That’s what drives all this common curriculum,” she said, “so we can collaborate.”
In regards to some parents’ concerns over pop culture and political influences in the text, as recently expressed in a letter to the editor, administrators maintain that the SpringBoard curriculum only emphasizes critical thinking in general, not a specific point of view or ideology.
“We need to educate students for the world they live in,” Pope said.
Parks pointed out many classic authors who appear in the senior SpringBoard edition, from Ovid to Sylvia Plath to Rudyard Kipling, alongside song lyrics, graphic novels and film clips.
“Engagement is one of the biggest things we try to bring about,” added Superintendent Lisa Noonan.
By next year, district officials hope to see gains in student writing performance as a result of the new curriculum.
Opponents, however, remain skeptical.
Megan Frost is an AP student, meaning she studies the AP curriculum rather than SpringBoard. But as a young author and aspiring teacher, she fears SpringBoard will become the new standard.
“It’s magazine-style,” she said. “It condenses literature down into little chunks.”
“By forcing them to do it, you’re demoralizing teachers,” added Susan Frost. “What makes a class special is the teacher.”
Both mother and daughter suggested SpringBoard be used as a supplement with other texts.
“As supplemental, it’s not bad,” said Megan Frost. “It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t think it should be the only book.”
Susan Frost fears SpringBoard is symptomatic of something greater – the decline of literature in modern society.
“People hurry through their lives,” she said. “They’re busy. They’re not taking the time to read a book.”