The West Geauga Board of Education approved the purchase of a new phonics curriculum for use in early elementary classrooms district-wide at its Monday meeting.

After a presentation from Assistant Superintendent and Director of Curriculum Nancy Benincasa, the board voted unanimously (with board member Chet Ramey absent) to purchase Fundations phonics curriculum and materials for all kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes at Lindsey and Westwood elementary schools for a total of $20,565.27. The price includes professional development training for teachers, Mrs. Benincasa said.

The district has formed a literacy leadership team and has been working on improving literacy programming for about a year and a half now, with work ongoing, Mrs. Benincasa said. Over that time, the staff has studied best practices and conducted a full audit of current practices and identified areas that needed improvement going forward.

Mrs. Benincasa said the literacy emphasis is focused on providing equitable access to strong literacy curriculum in all classrooms and to all students in the district.

“We want everyone using the same program so that we’re also identifying kids that have more need using the same set of data analysis and data points, so one of the ways we can do that is by the adoption of Fundations and training for all teachers so everyone has equal footing in terms of both the instruction and in terms of what students will have in the classroom,” she said.

The district’s research found that reading comprehension can be broken down into decoding, the ability to speak a printed word, and language comprehension, the ability to understand the spoken words, Mrs. Benincasa said. Those two components are then broken down into five big ideas: phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and identify sounds), phonics (the ability to associate what sounds each letter makes), fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

“So we tackle them (the five big ideas) in due order,” she said. “While all five of these big ideas are ever present in instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade, they’re not always created equal, so we would start in the early grades really with this great emphasis of basic phonemic awareness and phonics and then as we advance through the fifth grade, you can see it kind of also evolved into advanced phonics and multisyllabic words, and then word study that creates an emphasis in comprehension of reading.”

Mrs. Benincasa said the district is currently using a curriculum called Heggerty to teach phonemic awareness in kindergarten through second grade, with the literacy leadership team nearly unanimously selecting Fundations to serve as the phonics curriculum for those grades. As the work continues, she said she anticipates requesting the board to approve and purchase different curriculums to address phonemic awareness and phonics in third through fifth grade and fluency, vocabulary and comprehension for kindergarten through fifth grades.

“Fundations gives us a scope and sequence, and it also gives us some very explicit instruction, and it also gives us the sameness of curricula, so we can have conversations around the actual lessons around the actual product that our students are producing, and until you have a consistent resource, it’s difficult to do that,” she said.

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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