EL Education graphicEL Education graphic

The Arlington School Committee has unanimously adopted the administration-recommended literacy program for the elementary school level. It is called EL Education and was chosen over two other programs that were also considered.

Officials said that after considerable research, it appeared clear that EL Education was superior, based on a number of factors, to its competitors, My View Literacy and Wit & Wisdom. 

Its website states that “EL Education is a leading K-12 nonprofit redefining and raising student achievement in partnership with diverse public schools and districts across the country."

Tools of the Mind replaced

Over the next year, program, EL Learning will replace its predecessor, Tools of the Mind, itself a well-known but occasionally locally controversial choice that began use in Arlington Public Schools nine years ago. Read School Committee summaries here >> and here >> 

'There are also gorgeous picture books.'

-- Superintendent Elizabeth Homan

Determining that EL Learning was the best choice was a 12-month project, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Roderick MacNeal Jr. Said the committee's latest meeting, May 11.

With the blessing of Committee Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe, MacNeal gave a lengthy, detailed report Thursday evening about the process and reasoning that led to the selection.

MacNeal noted that EL Learning will accompany, not replace, the ongoing science of reading-influenced emphasis on phonics, especially in the primary grades, MacNeal said.

He said that one of the many advantages of EL Learning is its important focus on oral language, goal-setting and reflection.

“There are also gorgeous picture books,” said Superintendent Elizabeth Homan.

According to a timeline on its website, in 1995, “The Harvard Graduate School of Education joins Outward Bound USA to found EL Education as a new vision for public schools, then called Expeditionary Learning. The EL Education school model receives start-up funding by the New American Schools federal initiative. Only the top 1 percent of proposals received funding.”

“There are protocols for everything in this particular program,” MacNeal said.

One-hour modules

It is organized in one-hour modules and appears quite structured, with many materials available to educators, including optional scripts believed to be helpful especially for new teachers or substitute teachers.

Professional development also is integral to EL Learning. Social-emotional learning is embedded  throughout the curriculum.

Teachers will have latitude in what materials to use, as the curriculum offers many avenues to creativity, Homan said. “We don’t want automatons – that’s not what this is about.” 

MacNeal concurred. He said that, for instance, the lessons, as appropriate for any given grade level, incorporate movement, including opportunities for dancing and acting out scenarios. “It’s not just having kids sitting down and receiving it,” he said.

An emphasis on science and environment begins as early as kindergarten, when 5-year-olds learn about weather and meteorology. Details of this unit were shown to committee members during the meeting.

EL Learning’s lessons and their presentations are developmentally appropriate. For example, Homan said, in kindergarten, a lesson might include a short poem read aloud by the teacher several times, with students learning and performing associated hand gestures.

The actual roll-out of EL Learning will be gradual; it will begin in autumn 2024 and may not be complete until autumn 2025. It will involve some “big instructional shifts,” Homan said, and therefore she will be listening to faculty at all seven elementary campuses throughout Arlington Public Schools.

Costs spelled out

The cost of the program was not stated at the meeting. At that time, MacNeal said only that “It’s expensive,” and Homan mentioned that “We have a line in the budget for this.” 

Jeff Thielman, the senior member of the committee, having served continuously for two decades and counting, noted that reading is utterly fundamental to education. “I’m all for spending money on this,” he said.

Reached via email May 16 about the price tag, the superintendent explained the upcoming purchase as follows:

“We are still building the implementation plan that would allow me to answer this question. I can tell you that we have budgeted $300,000 in next year's operating budget [FY24] to support this work, and that we will likely spend some of the existing curriculum budget for this year (FY23) to support professional development and initial purchases of materials.

“Our implementation plan development includes asking teachers what level of implementation their teams are ready for next year, which influences the materials we will purchase for FY24.”

Paul Schlichtman, whose has been a teacher and a principal at the elementary level, said he liked the emphasis on STEM. Saying that he has seen preschoolers successfully set up trapezoids, he said, “I know kids can do this.”

On a motion by Thielman and a second by Schlichtman, the vote was 7-0 in favor.

In public comment, LGBTQIA+ advocacy

Earlier in the meeting, two young people spoke during public-comment to commend the district on its work on behalf of LGBTQIA+ students – and to demand that more be done.

Em Phillips, soon to graduate from Arlington High School, had spoken to the committee at length about six weeks previously on behalf of the district’s own Rainbow Task Force. At this meeting, Phillips noted having also been working with the AHS Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) organization since sophomore year and being associated with the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission since seventh grade. 

“Acceptance and inclusion as early as elementary school can be suicide prevention,” Phillips said. “It still doesn’t mean we can ignore the hatred [expressed elsewhere] that has been building.”

Even more adamant was AHS graduate and current college student Beatrice Croteau, who advocated for mandatory training for all staff, saying that if such training is allowed to be optional, then those employees who most need it will likely avoid it.

In the past, some middle-school teachers were openly hostile to queer youth, Croteau said, which was very confusing and deeply unsettling. “Every classroom needs to be safe,” Croteau said. “You [committee members] as leaders could make things better.” Mentioning upcoming Pride events and GSA meetings, Croteau said, “Every single one of you should attend.”

Abiding by its longstanding practice, committee members did not respond to the public comments.

In other business:
  • The committee heard a report from the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, or SEPAC, which recently completed a survey showing that families’ experiences with special education in the schools tends to vary widely. A trio of speakers said that what would improve services, enhance a sense of belong and build mutual trust would be clear expectations, transparency and better communication, including having materials translated into Portuguese and possibly other languages. Homan thanked the group for the comprehensive feedback and acknowledged that there remain some “very complex challenges.”

  • Homan reported a number of developments. An APS employee – Linda Carella, Hardy School crossing guard stationed at Lake and Brooks – has been chosen as Massachusetts Crossing Guard of the Year. The AHS move-in date for Phase Two at the still-under-construction high school is scheduled to take place and could take up to four days, with everything scheduled to be operational by Oct. 19. In hiring news, Bishop School principal is Eva Liner, while Brackett School will be led by Dr. Gretchen Vice. Also, the district is now partnering with Cartwheel care for referral to telehealth services.
Watch the May 11 meeting on ACMi:

The meeting began later than usual – at 6:48 p.m. rather than at 6:30 p.m. due to technical difficulties with Zoom and ACMi – and ended at 9:20 p.m. 

May 1, 2023: Changes to sex-education curriculum outlined, as committee addresses policy

This news summary by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

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