Catching Up with the Garrison School Board

Updates from November and December meetings

By Lily Gordon

The Garrison School is taking measures, including focusing on early intervention and piloting a new reading and writing curriculum, to bolster its literacy program.

Before this past fall, the district had gone five years without specialized reading support, said Principal John Griffiths at the Nov. 15 board meeting.

“Our numbers were the highest when we had reading teachers [and] early intervention,” said Debbie Earle, a third-grade teacher. “Once those positions were absorbed somewhere else, that’s when we started to see our numbers drop.”

Nobody in the room denied the importance of early intervention. “Why did it go away five years ago?” asked parent Jennifer Mercurio.

The answer: It wasn’t in the budget. Mary Karp, now a special-education instructor, had been providing reading support.

Thirty-five Garrison students currently receive reading support twice a week, in groups of five. The ideal ratio is three students to one teacher, meeting five times per week, said Julie Greene, a teacher assigned as a reading specialist.

Aside from creating Greene’s role, Garrison hired two literacy consultants from Words of Advice a year ago and adopted the reading and writing curriculum from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

During a presentation at the Nov. 15 meeting, teachers described that curriculum as a fluid one, building on the previous year. With workshops starting in first grade, students are shown how their reading and writing skills need to develop to meet the expectations of the next level.

A month later, at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting, Griffiths said that since the curriculum was introduced, teachers have been requesting more professional development and parents are offering testimonials, such as one about a student who only ever liked nonfiction but is “devouring fiction” since he found his appropriate reading level.

In other business…

  • On the next professional development day in January, teachers will receive training in online tools such as Wixie and Google Drive.
  • Garrison installed GoGuardian, a web filtering tool, on school computers to monitor student usage and to better understand which tools are being used, reported Superintendent Laura Mitchell.
  • A new handbook has been completed for substitute teachers.
  • Board Member David Gelber suggested that the district explore establishing a systematic way of keeping track of families opting out of sending their children to the Garrison School.
  • Griffiths presented some of the results of the annual New York State Math and English Language Arts proficiency tests given in grades 3 to 8. Statewide, about 40 percent of students were found to be proficient in English Language Arts and Math at their grade level; at Garrison those figures were 53 percent in ELA and 64 percent in math. The board discussed Garrison’s opt-out rate, which was 29 percent, and how it may be affecting scores. Griffiths said he wasn’t able to identify a particular type of student who opts out. Statewide about 19 percent of don’t take the tests. It was 9 percent at Haldane, 33 percent at Beacon and 43 percent at Lakeland.

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