Bethel Park School Board still divided over kindergarten textbooks
Bethel Park School Board remains divided over the kindergarten’s reading curriculum.
The board was expected to vote at its April 25 meeting whether to purchase “Wonders,” an elementary reading series from McGraw-Hill, for kindergarten, first and second grades.
The board purchased the books for third and fourth grades last year. Most board members seem sold on the idea of buying the books for first- and second-graders, but some worried that the new curriculum might be too intense for kindergarten, particularly with Bethel Park’s half-day program.
“We used ‘rigor’ (to describe books) for kindergarten,” Director Russ Spicuzza said. “I’m worried that if our kids have rigor in kindergarten, they’ll be burned out by the time they get to high school.”
A committee made up of teachers and administrators researched several reading textbooks for over a year and recommended Wonders for kindergarten through grade four. The teachers suggested Wonders aligns more closely to state standards, offers an online component to engage students and is a better tool for teaching special education students. They also said buying the series for all elementary grades would add consistency to the curriculum.
Suzanne Vighetti, kindergarten teacher at Memorial Elementary, said she was very skeptical of Wonders when she started researching the program, but she became convinced that it had a lot more to offer students than the current primary textbook, The Letter People. At the April 18 committee meeting, Vighetti showed the board paper scrolls filled with vocabulary words that Wonders covers compared to the current textbook. The Wonders list was longer by at least two feet.
However, Director Cindy Buckley, a retired kindergarten teacher, delivered a passionate defense of The Letter People, which encourages the use of puppets, props and special guests to introduce each letter to the children throughout the year. Buckley said the program makes learning fun and creates memories that endure.
Some argued that preschool teaches many of the concepts covered by The Letter People, but Buckley bristled at the argument that most kids have learned their letters and sounds by the time they reach kindergarten.
“That’s not true for every child,” she said. “Our guiding light is to provide for all children.”
Three parents spoke in support of Wonders at the committee meeting. A survey of teachers showed most favored implementing the Wonders curriculum for K-4. However, board members said they also received e-mails from parents and teachers that were more mixed.
Superintendent Joseph Pasquerilla also had mixed opinions about the issue. He told the board that implementing Wonders or sticking with The Letter People would be a good choice either way.
“If you have excellent educators, and we do, that’s more important than any textbook,” he said.
However, he recommended that the board purchase Wonders for kindergarten along with first and second grades. The cost will be just under $200,000 and the district would only save about $15,000 by skipping the books for kindergarten. The cost to buy new books for kindergarten later would be much higher, he said.
Administrators and teachers could then develop a curriculum that includes aspects from both programs. However, he cautioned that the development of a hybrid kindergarten reading curriculum would take time and it would not work perfectly in the first year.
In another matter, the board approved a tentative budget for next year that includes no increase to property taxes. Spending under the $84.68 million budget will increase by about 1.4 percent compared to this year. The board will consider adopting the final budget at the meeting May 23.