Shive finds common ground on Common Core

By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun

KUSD Superintendent Robin Shive has recently begun hosting monthly, informal “Coffee with the Superintendent” meetings at the Woodrow Wallace Elementary and Middle School campuses with any and all interested parents who would like to address issues and concerns related to their children’s education. At the February meeting, Shive opened by telling the group a little about herself, including the fact that she’s “been in the field of education since I was 16,” and in addition to her current position as Superintendent of KUSD, where she has worked for the last eight years, she had previously held positions at both the South Fork and Caliente School Districts. “I’m also a proud Mom and Grandmom,” she smiled, “so I understand what it’s like to have kids in school.” Also present at this month’s meeting were Lucian Whitman, parent, KUSD board member and business owner; Sandy Hughes, parent and former high school teacher; Jill Peary, parent and a current substitute teacher; Melanie Sherman, parent, formerly employed by the school district and now a private business owner; and Jenna Stanek, Tonya Cox and Jene Ryan, all concerned parents of one or more enrolled KUSD students. Everyone attending stated their desire to be more engaged in the educational process. Hughes put it succinctly. “I want to be involved. Parents are the number one indicator of school success.”

Shive explained that her goal with these monthly meetings is “to have a totally open agenda. It’s about getting to know you and what your needs are.” Stanek posed a question as to whether there is a GATE program at KUSD. “Are there advanced classes available for kids with higher intelligence and capabilities? Are those kids separated from classmates?” Shive responded that there is a GATE program, and that students enrolled are kept within their same grade level while being encouraged to take the advanced classes. “We need to keep the kids challenged intellectually, while socially keeping them with their proper age group.” Sherman suggested that Stanek follow up with her child’s teachers to track progress. “Keep the channels of communication open so you always know what’s going on.” On a related note, Stanek asked, “What’s happening with the KREM program? I’ve heard that Kathy Dwyer is retiring. Will it continue?” Shive responded that the popular Environmental Magnet and Home Schooling Program would be on the next KUSD Board Meeting Agenda and all interested parents were welcome to attend and speak on behalf of the program, “but it’s looking like it’s going to stay.” Stanek inquired, “Would it be feasible for some of the higher achievement students, like those in the GATE program, to be able to participate in those field trips? I think those present an amazing learning opportunity outside the classroom.” Shive was not sure if students not enrolled in the home schooling program could legally take part in those Environmental Magnet field trips, but she promised to research the possibility.

The subject turned to nutrition. Hughes noted that recently her child had “Goldfish Crackers and Cheezits for a breakfast snack. And there was only juice, no water available for the HOPE students.” Shive responded that the State and Federal Governments offer a food program to the students, but it has its own budget and is controlled separately from the school district. Shive also noted that while sometimes the food may have a familiar brand to appeal to the kids, the “snacks” offered the kids have actually been engineered for them specifically. “Kids nutritional needs are so different. If you compare these labels with those found in the stores, I think you’ll find they have very different values.” Whitman agreed that the food offered the students follow mandates for nutritional values, but he expressed reservations about “the companies out there who are willing to follow the mandates, but then push their brands on our kids. Then there’s the budget factor.” Shive proposed asking Karen Watson, the Cafeteria Manager, to the next meeting to go over the program and nutritional values. “Karen is so amazing. She has been working with Taco Bell and Pizza Factory to bring in variety, trying to use local vendors and bring in fresh produce as much as possible.” Cox stated that one of her kids has ADD, and she expressed concerns that the foods her daughter gets here have color dyes and corn syrup, which are triggers for her child’s condition. “I make her lunches, but she is offered food here, and I don’t know what’s in it.” Shive responded that Cox and all parents with similar concerns should obtain a note from their child’s doctor and turn it into the Cafeteria Manager, “so your child gets special attention to those dietary needs.”
Ryan noted that there appeared to be a large amount of Styrofoam cups, plastic utensils and plastic containers continually utilized for snacks and mealtimes. “All that stuff ends up in the landfill. Why can’t we go back to using stainless steel trays and utensils?” Shive explained that the cafeteria’s industrial dishwasher had been broken, and additionally, the old pipes “desperately need an upgrade. The whole system needs an overhaul. I don’t think it’s been updated since the school was built.” Shive stated that the cafeteria’s kitchen renovation was scheduled for this Spring/Summer.

Cox brought up her frustrations with the “Common Core” Educational model, adopted by elementary and middle schools statewide several years ago. “If a child isn’t progressing on the Common Core, can you move your child away from it and use another method?” Shive responded, “Common Core is the new model. It’s leading us to our future. When we all went to school, teachers imparted information. Now, students are constantly inundated with information, but they need to learn how to take that information and utilize it effectively. They need to learn the ‘why?’ and incorporating a depth of knowledge. I understand it’s still a struggle for us adults to understand it. We’re not used to thinking this way, but Common Core will help prepare our kids for the jobs of the future.” Sherman pulled up the “Four C’s” of the Common Core curriculum, which are (1) Critical Thinking, (2) Creativity, (3) Communication and (4) Collaboration. Shive stated their research found that literacy was the most critical factor, so the initial focus was on getting students up to speed before they graduate middle school. To that end, the district currently offers additional help with the reading curriculum, and “we will start working on the math portion next year. Your daughter is only one grade level below. Don’t panic. That is fairly normal for this age. There is still time for her to catch up with extra help.”

Peary suggested offering a class or workshop for parents to understand what the Common Core model is, and how it works, “so we can help our kids with their homework!” Sherman agreed, and offered an additional solution. “It’s so different now. I don’t even understand the math and can’t help my own kid. What if we ask higher achieving high school kids who understand the new system to come and tutor the younger students in grade schools for extra credit or community service points?” All agreed both were great ideas and Shive promised to follow up with both a workshop for parents and to reach out to the High School. Shive also pointed out that the live online tutorial “Do the Math,” is available to all parents, students and teachers to understand how to solve the new math problems.

The final major item addressed was that of Total Inclusion model. Hughes asked, “Will Total Inclusion be incorporated into our school?” Shive responded, “We need a lot more professional development, but we are working on completely incorporating it into the system. Right now we are following the ABC Model and doing a LOT of teacher training. The inclusion model needs to allow for a path for the ED kids without affecting the other students’ learning opportunities. We are ultimately hoping for 80 percent.” Sherman was hopeful that the Total Inclusion model would help the kids “be better humans. Kids not in General Education need to learn how to live in the real world, and kids in Gen Ed need to learn empathy. They need to learn to deal with people’s differences and respect those with disabilities.” Shive added, “And for the safety of all concerned, if someone proves to be a danger to themselves or others, they need to be removed from the classroom.”

Attendees were given some time for final thoughts. Ryan said, “Great job on moving Mr. Lassen and Ms. Gallis over to help with the kids. And it’s fantastic that you’re leaving the Lending Library open for kids to utilize at all times. Thank you!” All were thrilled with the new “Peaceful Playground,” saying their kids all loved it. Shive expressed her thanks to all who attended and the thoughtful and constructive discussion of their concerns. She promised to follow up on all the points brought up today and will plan to continue these “Coffee with the Superintendent” meetings on a monthly basis to “keep the conversation going.”