Rivera takes charge, recommends curriculum, literacy program

Updated, 8:12 p.m.: Different PDF file.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera on Thursday night unveiled a plan titled “A PreK-5 Literacy Comprehensive Plan and Recommendations” to the Board of Education Curriculum and Instruction Committee.

The plan includes a recommendation to go with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys as the primary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for the kids, with Core Knowledge (CKLA) as an optional alternative — in one or two schools — for kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms. And he wants to adopt Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries to create abundant independent reading libraries in every classroom, he said.

This was not met with enthusiasm from the committee’s new members, Sherelle Harris and Shirley Mosby, who were elected in November. Both expressed confusion about the optional second curriculum for Norwalk’s youngest students. Mosby suggested that it amounted to “experimenting” on Norwalk’s most vulnerable children.

“I wouldn’t want my kid to be an experiment and it doesn’t work,” she said. “… My kid would never catch up.”

“I am not talking about experimenting with kids,” Rivera said. “I am talking about a program that has been implemented in schools in New York, Newark and elsewhere. There is a two-year study that actually met research design standards, that actually demonstrated that that program had greater success for kids that are new, and, where it is implemented as designed, the kids over time did better. I’m talking about something that is more proven than those other ones on the list.”

The full board will consider this next week.

Journeys was the second choice last spring of a committee of teachers and school administrators that worked with Norwalk Public Schools Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila to recommend a curriculum. Davila pushed for Pearson, while then-BOE member Sue Haynie and others favored CKLA, the curriculum recommended by former Superintendent Susan Marks.

The impasse was resolved in August when Rivera recommended not rushing things to get a curriculum in place by the start of the 2013-14 school year. This was not really a delay, according to Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons – the original plan had been to choose a curriculum in time for 2014-15, he said.

Lyons said Thursday that Rivera’s choice, Journeys, is about half the price of Pearson. That frees up money for some options: the optional use of CKLA by schools that can sell Rivera on the idea of going in that direction. It also freed up money to pay for Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries, with $1,000 worth of books in every classroom, Lyons said.

CKLA would be offered as a pilot program for one or two schools. The curriculum requires more work on the part of teachers, but the research indicates excellent results with disadvantaged children, Rivera said. Third-graders would transition to Journeys or Expeditionary Learning.

If the school chooses to go in that direction, he would be willing to consider their choice, he said.

“I believe in innovation,” he said in response to Mosby. “I believe it has had some promising results. I am particularly impressed with the manner in which (CKLA) has been constructed and how it builds knowledge systematically through its rich literature.”

Mosby said she thought the point of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was to have the children on the same curriculum. The kids will move on to a “feeder school,” and they will all be on the same page, she said.

“They’re not learning something totally different,” Rivera said. “They’re learning the standards. Common Core State Standards is what is going to guide all the learning that takes place.’

The materials might be different, but they will be learning the same skills, he said.

“Right now as a district I would say no, we can’t have two separate ones,” he said. “Because we do have 12 schools that operate very independently and we don’t have that. We don’t have consistency. Right now it would not make sense. But in this kind of environment, where all eight cylinders are working together, we will have that level of consistency and standards.”

Harris followed up on Mosby’s questions, pushing for a better understanding of the two-curriculum process.

“All schools right now will adopt Journeys. Not Core Knowledge. Journeys is the city-wide recommendation,” Rivera said. “However, if a school chooses to submit a proposal to implement a different reading program on a pilot basis I will review the proposal, and, in that one school, in lieu of Journeys we’d choose Core Knowledge.”

Rivera said the choice was made with the input of a consultant, who was hired to evaluate the curriculum choices.

Lyons, who said he has been involved in the curriculum selection process for two years, lauded the consultant’s credentials, which include degrees from Yale, Harvard and Stanford universities.

“That person analyzed the data. Based on her analysis the two best programs are the ones that Dr. Rivera is recommending. To me that carries a lot of weight,” Lyons said.

Not to be rude, Mosby said, but this is a very big step. “We need to make sure that all children are going to benefit from this,” she said.

“Understood,” Rivera said. “That’s why you hired me, to bring my best expertise. That’s what I have done. This is the best you’re going to get. I have studied this. I have gone over this over and over again. I am actually pretty excited about what I have shared with you tonight. There’s a lot here. To execute that and to do that well is going to fundamentally transform what we are doing with K-5 literacy. I hope that the board is supportive of this direction because I think it’s the way to go. It is my recommendation to you that is what we do.”

Lyons also lauded Rivera.

“The comprehensive nature of this proposal is far better than anything I have seen,” he said.

The comprehensive plan begins with adopting a literacy policy, with the highest of expectations. It goes on, in Rivera’s words, to:

• Plan and deliver high-quality professional development

• Focus and establish district structures, roles and systems around literacy

• Engage and support parents at an unprecedented level

• Engage Norwalk’s public libraries and community partners

• Provide common “assessments” in all schools

• Provide more access to after-school and summer school programs

• Adopt Journeys for K-5 Literacy program

• Adopt Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries

• Adopt independent reading material aligned with CCSS available from Scholastic, Booksource, Classroom Library and Random House

The PowerPoint presentation announcing all of this is attached below.

Rivera said books are actually low on the list of importance.

“If you were to rank what has the greatest impact on student achievement, I would not find the textbook in the top five or six,” he said. “You’d find teacher quality at the top of the list. … I can’t come to you today with a recommendation for a textbook without talking about the critical importance of being able to engage your students, know your students, create the right classroom or talk about the critical importance of teachers in our schools and our leaders and what they need to know and be able to do. And the systems and supports that have to be in place because, if you don’t have that, you’re not going to have accountability.”



34 responses to “Rivera takes charge, recommends curriculum, literacy program”

  1. lifelong teacher

    Good step. Finally we have a superintendent who’s moving us forward.

  2. the donut hole

    .sorry, this is just another money grab from the taxpayers.
    what would the world be like without all these exorbitantly paid ivy league degreed experts crafting it for us?
    why does Google not hire on the basis of pedigree? you might want to read about it. it’s all over the news this week.

  3. WOW!

    Hey Donut Hole:
    It’s because of obstructionists like Mosby that just over 40% of Norwalk’s African-American kids and just over 50% of our Latino kids are performing at state standards. And don’t think for one minute that White kids are doing much better, either. They’re only at 73% of standards. A monumental change is needed beginning with teacher training, parental involvement and, yes, a 21st century Language Arts curriculum that even “Google” executives would appreciate! We have a nationally acclaimed Superintendent of Schools with a vision and with a determination to get the job done for Norwalk’s kids… our future leaders. I applaud him and support his initiatives.

  4. Lisa Thomson

    If this BOE does not back our second, nationally recognized superintendent, Norwalk will be a nationally recognized laughing stock, yet again. Are we going to allow individuals to hold Norwalk hostage and go back to the status quo? Harry, where are you? Two years ago, I publicly stated in a BET meeting to Mayor Moccia, when discussing the budget, that I didnt think that the mayor’s office had done enough to support the superintendent from the perils of a dysfunctional board. Two years later, my opinion has not changed. Norwalk has been given a second chance with Rivera. Please don’t let it happen again!

  5. jlightfield

    Earth to all people hijacking Google the company as an example to support any educational issue. Google hires smart people. Smart people are smart despite whatever educational background they have gone through. Smart technical people typically shun standardized curriculum factories.
    Students are people. When you start treating students as people, not some living widget to micro-manage from dawn to dusk, you might find creative, brilliant young people eager to learn. The people who invented most of the technology you are currently soaking in all started their educational journey with the DIck and Jane books.
    Keep Calm and Carry On.

  6. Bruce LeVine Mellion

    The 42 page presentation is a comprehensive framework for literacy k-5. This is what Norwalk teachers have been waiting for a long time. One of the most important aspects is the role of parents with a plan for them to learn the skills needed to effectively work with their children on the most important topic of literacy.

  7. Joe Espo

    The fact that the teachers’ union president is publicly endorsing Rivera’s proposal should sound alarms and raise suspicions that this is just another union money grab. First thing the BOE should do is follow the money.

  8. Lisa Thomson

    Bruce – thank you.

  9. the donut hole

    @JL. You missed my point, but you get it. We’re still stuck in the mindset of hiring ivy league consultants. We need people with degrees from CSU. Common Sense University. See you don’t need to go to Harvard to understand basic concepts like reading Dick and Jane books. Everywhere you turn our governments are paying through the nose for these ivy league experts to tell us the obvious and in many cases they come up with schemes that don’t work and end up costing huge sums. Hopefully this isn’t the latest round.

  10. I agree with Bruce. The extensive online access for parents to just about everything their kids will be learning is a very powerful part of this remarkably well thought-out proposal. Dr. Rivera worked closely with teachers, principals, and nationally-recognized experts in putting the plan together.

    As for the ‘money-grab’ comment above, the combined cost of Journeys and all the other extensive curricular materials in Dr. Rivera’s proposal combined is less than in the Pearson proposal for textbooks alone that was being discussed last year. This is not only a powerful proposal for fundamentally improving learning by our K-5 students, its also less expensive! Does it cost money? Of course it does. But unless you plan to shut down the public schools, why not support efforts to spend that money SMARTER, on something that can WORK? And the “exorbitantly paid ivy league degreed experts” were paid for entirely with a grant from General Electric.

    Jackie, there is nothing in this proposal that treats children as ‘living widgets’. The opportunities for creativity and teacher initiatives, innovation and new use of outside reading materials to go with the textbooks are extensive. ‘Widgets’ is not how Manny thinks of kids (nor do I – I certainly never viewed my kids that way). Improving standards and expecting children to learn solid knowledge is not treating them as ‘widgets’; it IS recognizing that having 50% of our kids unable to read competently isn’t preparing them for Google, or much of anything else. This is a plan that can change that.

  11. jlightfield

    @MIke Lyons, my comment was directed at “people hijacking Google…” The criticism of some people about this curriculum choice over another by way of dragging tech culture just bothers me. Perhaps a bit early for the sarcastic meta embedded within the comment, but hey i was typing without caffeine.

  12. Jackie, no problem. Google gets overused. 🙂

  13. lifelong teacher

    The fact that Donut Hole is talking about ‘…. understanding basic concepts like reading Dick and Jane books….’ says a lot about public perception. That’s so far from what children need to do now that it isn’t funny – it’s scary.

  14. Carolyn Chiodo

    Your school is only as good as your teacher.

  15. Carolyn, I agree. Dr. Rivera said several times last night that the tools – which are all that curriculum and technology are — only work in the hands of good teachers. That’s why far more of this plan is about teachers’ professional development than about textbooks.

  16. the donut hole

    Yes JL, get that caffeine going. Google’s recruitment policies are what is in the news. They focus more on capability than pedigree. I was merely pointing this out in the context of our hiding behind some ivy leaguers credentials to promote the efficacy of these ideas being brought forward. I thought you were bringing up salient points about natural learning progression which seems to be overlooked. Bloom’s taxonomy was hatched out of a state college by the way.

  17. lifelong teacher

    To follow up on Mike Lyons’ post, professional development has been non existent in Norwalk for years. If a school is lucky enough to have Title I funding, they can being people in or send teachers out to workshops. Same thing for literacy materials. It is embarrassing and shameful that we have some schools photocopying old anthology stories because there aren’t books to send home.

    We are hopeful.

  18. lifelong, Dr. Rivera has received major commitments from private funders to support the PD needed to make this work. He, like you, views current PD as virtually non-existent. Make sure to read the whole report linked above; it has a major focus on revamping our whole system of professional development.

  19. When you state “professional development” for teachers, does that mean there is a measurement to which their pay raise will be graded on (pardon the “pun”) and will this allow Norwalk principals to fire any teacher not measuring up to what will be outlined in their development plan??

  20. Anne Sullivan

    Mike, as a teacher with NPS, I am also excited at the prospect of valuable PD. I love working here, but hunger for “real” PD that will enable me to be an even better teacher for the range of students I work with.

  21. Oldtimer

    The make or break challenge may turn out to be the level of parents involvement that can be achieved. Children, with the finest teachers, are only motivated to the extent their parents value education. Somewhere, in the interaction with parents, they need to be exposed to lifetime earning statistics for various levels of education. IE: college graduates earn more than high school graduates, high school graduates earn more than non-graduates. Skilled tradesman earn more than unskilled laborers, etc. Not everyone has to go college, skilled tradesman are much in demand and make a very nice living.

  22. bill

    Rather then tearing down a proposal that saves money and helps ALL children, Ms. Mosby should thank Mr. Rivera for all that he is doing to turn around our crappy public schools. Thank you Mr. Rivera and Mike Lyons for all that you guys do.

  23. jlightfield

    @the donut hole, what’s with the default discrimination against ivy leaguers? It is after all just a brand. Just like Google is a brand.

  24. anonymous

    Rivera putting teacher quality on the top of the list before the textbooks chosen is spot on. Professional development has prominent role in Rivera’s plan, which was for all intents and purposes non-existent before. Teacher’s union boss Mellion instead of worrying only about the money side should have been clamoring for that all these years too.

  25. Marjorie M

    Professional Development K-5 was indeed present in Norwalk. To say that it was not is disingenuous. Norwalk had highly trained Literacy Coaches in every school. larger schools had two Literacy Coaches. These people were to model best practices in classrooms and to provide in-house training. Additionally, Title 1 and Priority School money required teacher training, I believe. Let’s not try to create a Norwalk that did not value teacher training. What was missing, in some schools, was principal buy-in. The school principal was in charge of creating the time and structure for the literacy coach to provide that training. It all came down to building accountability. Grant money was in the control of building principals as well. The only thing that will change under Rivera is accountability. My understanding right now is that with the technology guy evaluating principals, accountability will be short changed once again. I hope not. I hope Rivera’s plan strengthens accountability.

  26. lifelong teacher

    Sorry Marjorie M, they weren’t all highly trained, some barely competent, and they spent a great deal of their time on teaching groups of students. This was directed by the district. They were never designated as coaches. Beginning a dozen years ago, each school (whether 300 or 600 students) had only one. And even with that, you can model all you want: that’s not enough.

    There was no plan, no district wide professional development model, no decision from central office as to what literacy should look like and what knowledge should be transmitted to teachers. Norwalk has not valued teacher training. Talk to teachers out in the schools and they will tell you the truth. It seems as though now, systematic training is coming. Good news for our students.

  27. Marjorie M

    Lifelong Teacher, you are so wrong! Central Office wanted Literacy COACHES, principlals wanted them to do small group instruction. If I remember correctly, there were some nasty goings on during that time. The Assistant Superintendent at that time (John Ramos, I believe) strongly supported the building principals and allowed the Literacy coaches to take small groups.
    As far as training was concerned, many of the literacy coaches were Reading Recovery teachers with extensive backgrounds in literacy. There was also a mandatory series of training sessions at the State level, and in-district training and training money (for workshops)for those teachers. The principals chose their own coaches, not central office.

  28. Marjorie M

    Oh, the model for the district was the reading recovery model, reworked by the State Department of Education. The books purchased for all schools were the Wright and Rigby books. The method of assessment was Running Records, which followed the students even in summer school. There was a definite plan that was NOT adhered to in the schools because of a lack of accountability. That was the missing piece.

  29. longtime resident

    Sorry I respectfully disagree. Reading Recovery was a good program.. It was not a model for the district, but an intervention program for at risk first grade students. Their training was top notch, however very specific to prereading and early decoding issues. These are not necessarily skills that transfer to being professional developers, or to working with students or teachers in the upper grades. We NEVER had coaches. Never.

    The early literacy teachers (carefully named by central office, with a job description that deliberately included remedial reading for half of their day) and reading recovery teachers’ jobs were cut and combined into one position. These spots were filled totally on the basis of seniority, not skills.

    If you are talking about the original book purchases from Rigby and Wright, you are going back 14 years. Trust me, those little paperbacks are worn out now after a decade and a half of heavy use. And they barely extended into second grade, and just a handful for third. If a school didn’t have Title I for the purchase of leveled materials, they were out of luck.

  30. Marjorie M

    Okay, I just did my research by asking some people who were “in the know” back then. Central Office initially called them Early Literacy Facilitators, and they were to be coaches. Mrs. Grey, one of the principals, did not want a “coach” in her building. She forced everyone to change the job description and allowed these teachers to teach small groups. No one who knew literacy at central office agreed. Principals and central office totally disagreed on the job description. Some principals did not want their literacy teachers to attend training anywhere, even at the state level. Some building principals allowed the training. Each principal was allowed to do whatever they wanted. Although Reading Recovery was early literacy, the transition to authentic literature made sense. The SDE provided excellent training for districts, level K-5. All schools were offered this training. If your school did not participate, that was a building problem. This is what I believe was the truth.

  31. anonymous

    @marjorim it is unclear if your post is a defense of literacy coaches, literacy professional development, principals or central office, all of which seemed inadequate in your description and helps explain Norwalk schools lousy reading scores.

  32. Marjorie M

    Actually, my post is about ACCOUNTABILITY. A plan can exist that is the best in the country, but without the superintendent supporting central office, there is no accountability. No building principal should be able to change the plan to suit him/herself. According to NORWALKSPEAKS, we already have one school that may choose a different program. Yes, it is the alternate choice, but that allows a school to change from the number one choice, the choice of the costly consultant(s). Given past history, I believe one program should exist in all twelve schools. It’s necessary in order to avoid the typical chaos that ensues in Norwalk at all levels. Total support for the evaluators is needed so that if a teacher isn’t following the plan, a principal can start a paper trail that is backed by central office and the superintendent. The superintendent holds the most important role. Will he support the evaluators or cave in to the unions? Time will tell.

  33. Lifelong Teacher

    Ancient history, decades ago, and not worth rehashing anymore. Any of us who were in the middle of this would agree. Let’s focus on the fact that long missing literacy PD will be coming to Norwalk’s teachers, and will benefit students. Good things are ahead.

  34. Marjorie M

    If you don’t learn from past mistakes, they are bound to happen again. Enuff said.

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