Public Radio for the Central Kenai Peninsula
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support KDLL, donate today

District prepares to launch new reading program

Sabine Poux

Elementary schoolers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will learn to read under a new program beginning next school year, called Core Knowledge Language Arts Amplify, or CKLA.

The new curriculum comes just ahead of the district’s scheduled curriculum review this fall. The school district reviews its curriculum every six years, in every subject — including the teacher guides and student workbooks it purchases for all schools across the district. Curriculum Coordinator Melissa Linton said the district’s current elementary ELA program, Fountas and Pinnell, does not have a strong enough foundation skills component to teach students skills like phonics and phonemic awareness.

At a school board work session earlier this month, administrators said the district also wanted to take advantage of a grant from the state that will help pay for materials, which is why it's looking into the revision now.

“And so that’s why I wanted to jump on board with this, given the financial outlook,” said Superintendent Clayton Holland at the meeting. “The grant for us is going to be close to $1 million to cover the costs of what we’re doing. So that’s very significant.”

The district had its choice between four programs that were vetted by the state. Linton said the district has been soliciting input from teachers on those programs since January, as well as from parents, via email and on Facebook. An ELA Material Committee — with teachers from across the district — narrowed the program choices down to two and then picked the CKLA using a review process and established rubric. The program comes from the Core Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit based in Charlottesville, Virginia and founded by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Linton said the ELA committee chose the program for a few reasons. She said the committee found foundational skills materials strong and coherent, teacher guides easy to read and clear, and that the same company that produced the program, Amplify, also produced the state’s new benchmark progress monitoring tool — piloted by several district schools this year — which made it easy to correlate benchmarks with the material.

And she said the committee found content well integrated from grade to grade with what she called background knowledge — or information about the topics students might be reading about, and tested on in national tests like ACT and SAT.

That background knowledge was a sticking point for some people who testified at a school board meeting Monday.

Some of the units for first and second graders include world religions and mythology. Ahead of Monday, former Soldotna Rep. Ron Gillham posted to Facebook some of his own concerns about the world religion curricula not being age appropriate, and advertised a meeting in Kenai to “prepare” for the board meeting.

Mountain View teacher Donna Anderson pointed out at the meeting parts of the first-grade curriculum that reference the study of the religion of Babylon, as well as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“My concern is with the appropriateness of disguising teaching history and reading comprehension with the study of religion,” she said.

Kari Dendurent, the district’s assistant superintendent, said her office will be working with staff across the district to make sure they address concerns as they come up.

“I think the biggest piece of it is, is we are hearing you,” she said. “We do feel that this is a great curriculum. However, there are going to be some things we have to do that we have to make adjustments to.”

Meanwhile, the district will start training and working with teachers on the new program in August. Linton said a handful of other Alaska districts are reviewing CKLA, as well.

Separately, the district will be reviewing its reading intervention program to make sure students in the district are meeting the goals of the 2022 Alaska Reads Act, to get Alaskan students reading, proficiently, by third grade.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
Related Content