Alison James
Associate Editor

School is out for summer, but Opelika City Schools School Board and administrators are still at work to ensure excellent academics for local students.

The board and several local principals met June 5. In addition to approving several new hires and transfers, accepting bids for new carpet and lawn care, approving the 2014-2015 Student Code of Conduct and reviewing the April financial report, the board took a thorough look at several different aspects of curriculum, including the impact of changes from last year and upcoming changes.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Brenda Rickett addressed the new reading standards – this was the first year for implementation of the new Alabama College and Career Ready standards in English and Language Arts.

“It was a challenging year for both students and teachers,” Rickett said. “The biggest change from the older standards to the new standards has to do with students being able to cite text evidence. They can’t just say, ‘Oh, I thought this character was good.’ (Now they have to) find what’s in the book that makes you think the character is a good person. That has proved challenging because students don’t always want to dig that deep into their thinking. They also have to be able to compare texts and find evidence in the texts of why they are making the comparisons or the contrasts … They are doing things we did not ever think they would be able to do.”

Rickett said teachers and students both have risen to the occasion and truly taken on the challenge.

Rickett also reviewed the impact following the second year for the Alabama College and Career Ready math standards.

“We are all continuing to grow in our depth of knowledge of math as we learn more and more about what the standards mean,” said Rickett, who explained that a small team of teachers has been working together to make sure standards are aligned throughout the grades. “We are now to the point where we are ready to put some units and pacing together for our teachers.”

Beyond curriculum changes, Rickett reviewed for the board the way different schools have implemented “scheduling alternatives” to meet individual students’ needs – like at Southview, where an additional math instruction period was put in action.

“They have what they call ‘Walk to Math,’” Rickett said, explaining that students are grouped by areas of weakness for intensive instruction on those particular math skills. “Students made tremendous gains, and we’re excited about that.”

Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors praised the teachers who took the initiative on the “Walk to Math” program.

“We want to try new things they feel like will work,” Neighbors said.

Opelika Middle School Principal Keith York also presented to the board how OMS has developed project-based learning programs and character education aspects to the school day.

In one of its final items of business, the board raised Neighbors’ salary approximately 4.5 percent to $160,000.