The Richmond Register

April 21, 2014

Task force reveals plan to make ‘Meaningful Math' matter

At Madison County Schools

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — It’s all too common to hear parents say, “I was never good at math...,” as if to excuse their children for not being good at math, said Madison County Schools Superintendent Elmer Thomas.

However, the launch of the district’s teacher-led Mathematics Task Force this year is aimed at changing that mentality.

The task force is working to rally the district behind one motto: “Meaningful Math Matters,” said Jennifer Martin, a math interventionist at Kit Carson and Mayfield elementary schools.

The motto is intended to “create meaning in students, that they don’t see math as an isolated subject, that they see it for its career benefits and that they see it’s in the real world,” Martin said.

This initiative is not just for teachers and students, she said, but should be a community-wide belief that “Madison County students can truly be mathematically proficient from kindergarten all the way to college.”

When Thomas was hired to lead the district last year, he said in August that it would be important as superintendent to “cast that vision for math on day one.”

After the late Superintendent Mike Caudill said, “I want every kid in Madison County to be able to read,” Thomas said principals and teachers seemed to unify behind his vision.

Now, more than 80 percent of students are graduating at a proficient or distinguished reading level, he said.

But where students are making gains in testing for English, reading and science, they remain the same in math, he said.

The 18-member Mathematics Task Force was formed at the beginning of the school year and is comprised of a teacher from every school and every grade level. The group first sought teacher input to proceed with planning, said Madison Central High School math teacher Katie Ellis during a presentation to the school board Thursday.

The group was challenged to evaluate current math practices and develop a plan to improve students’ math performance district wide.

After collecting about 200 survey responses from math teachers, the group determined a revision of the district’s math standards document was necessary, she said.

The revised documents will not only include the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, but a pacing guide for presenting the curriculum, learning targets, a list of common misconceptions students may have about math, sample work items from students and a collection of common vocabulary that all math teachers can use.

“This will be very helpful for first-year teachers, but also for more seasoned teachers that need to become more familiar with the new standards,” said Brandy Beardsley, a math teacher at Silver Creek Elementary and a member of the task force who also presented Thursday.

More of the group’s plan will be shared with all math teachers at a training in June, but the goal is to ensure the math standards are seen by all teachers and are readily available by the end of the current school year.

The next step is to create a guide to “vertical alignment communication,” she said. For example, Beardsley said she teaches fifth-grade math, so she had discussions with fourth-grade teachers and sixth-grade teachers.

“We had some great, eye-opening discussions about how I impact those above me and what I need to share with teachers who are feeding students to me,” she said.

In the fall, each school also will identify math leaders in their buildings, Martin said. These representatives “must be excited about math and help principals and administrators carry on the work of the task force.”

There are also plans to create a monthly newsletter and publicize the initiative through email, social media and news media to build excitement and encourage community partnership.

Later at the school board meeting, preschool director Karla Willis said she was interested in having the preschool program represented on the task force.

Thomas said Monday he liked Willis’ idea and that laying an early “solid foundation for mathematics” for young students can have a long-lasting effect on math performance.

With the implementation of full-day kindergarten in the fall, Thomas said teachers may be able to spend more time laying this foundation.

“You all are my heroes,” board chair Mona Isaacs said to task force representatives Thursday.

“I’m really glad you guys are working on this. I love math, and I just think everybody else ought to, too,” said Isaacs, who has a bachelor’s degree in math education.

Preschool update

The district’s state-funded preschool program has 326 students, 64 percent of which are males and 36 percent are females, Willis said. About 75 percent of students are age 4 and 25 percent are age 3.

The ethnicity demographic matches the county’s closely, she added. Students with and without disabilities are taught in the same classroom.

Students attend the half-day program four days a week and the fifth day is set aside for preschool services, such as screenings. The program is for children ages 3, 4 or 5 after Oct. 1. Eligibility is based on family income unless the child has a disability.

To begin the application process, call 625-6037.