By Stephanie Brown
JACKSON – In the world of education, a teacher or professor’s curriculum serves as the road map for what will be taught in the classroom throughout the year. Curriculum standards outline goals for the year and dictate what a student should know and be able to do by the time they leave one grade to move onto the next. In recent years the topic of curriculum standards has gotten more attention with the emergence of Common Core, College and Career Readiness Standards, Next Generation National Science Standards, and several other sets of state and national standards. As the curriculum debate has grown, Catholic schools have been faced with a challenge. These schools need to both utilize standards that will academically prepare students for the future and more importantly develop a roadmap that is infused with Catholic identity, ensuring that Catholic schools are teaching the whole child by cultivating his or her academic, spiritual, emotional and physical growth.
Curriculum review is an ongoing process. And, when state and national standards are revised is prompts the Diocese to take an even closer look and consider if changes are necessary. In following the updates to the state curriculum standards, the Office of Education determined that it was time to revise and enhance the standards currently used in the Diocese of Jackson Catholic schools.
The evaluation of the current curriculum started at the local level last September. Administrators and teachers spent a professional development work day focusing on vertical alignment. A curriculum that is vertically aligned ensures that students are fully prepared to move from one grade to the next. It eliminates gaps or holes in the content covered, and eliminates any redundancies that may waste time unnecessarily repeating skills and topics covered during the previous year. While many skills require a certain amount of practice and maintenance from year to year, diocesan leadership wanted to ensure that the standards and skills continue to build on one another and dive deeper into critical thinking rather than simply implementing rote repetition.
Following this work day, all the information from each school was collected and reviewed. In February, educators from around the diocese came together to closely evaluate several state and national standards, data from students’ performance over the past three years and feedback from the professional development day in September.
Working in groups based on grade level and subjects, teachers made decisions regarding what to implement for students at each grade level. Teachers were given the freedom to look at the standards currently available and determine which standards they felt were both developmentally appropriate and rigorous enough to ensure students’ academic success.
Once an initial draft of curriculum standards was created for each grade and subject, the committees dove deeper into the standards seeking natural connections between the newly written standards and Catholic identity. The committees began identifying concrete ways to integrate Church teachings, scripture and overall spiritual development into other subjects.
The next meeting of the curriculum committees is scheduled for mid-September. The agenda for this meeting includes revisions of the first drafts, continued vertical planning and alignments and an even deeper focus on the integration of Catholic identity. The goal of this process is to provide Catholic school teachers, students and parents with a clear roadmap of learning that not only meets the academic standards of our public-school counterparts but exceeds the rigor of those programs. This roadmap is further enhanced with guidelines for the spiritual and emotional development of students.
Following our curriculum meetings in September, smaller committees will be used to “polish” the standards and begin crafting the final drafts to be used in the 2019-2020 school year. Many teachers have already begun the integration of these standards, and administrators look forward to a seamless transition from the current standards to the enhanced curriculum standards now under construction.
To help aid in this transition and improve the overall experience for our teachers and students, the Office of Education is looking into a variety of professional development opportunities. These events will help teachers fully understand the curriculum and discover fun and new ways to use them in their classrooms.
One initiative in the works is an inaugural STREAM (Science Technology Religion Engineering Art and Mathematics) Academy planned for teachers from across the diocese starting in the summer of 2019 and extending throughout the school year.
(Stephanie Brown is the coordinator for school improvement for the Office of Education.)