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Superintendent answers questions about Common Core

Christine Kuklica
ckuklica@lahontanvalleynews.com
Dr. Sandra Sheldon

Churchill County School District Superintendent Sandra Sheldon discussed the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their local implementation at Tuesday’s town hall meeting hosted by the Lahontan Republican Women and the Republican Central Committee.

Sheldon handed out information from both the school district and Department of Education about CCSS. Nevada adopted the standards in October 2010, and they became the Nevada Academic Content Standards for English language arts and mathematics.

The Common Core website defines the program as a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for K-12 grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopted. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to either enter credit-earning entry courses in two or four-year college programs or the workforce.

Sheldon said she believes many of the standards are what parents want their children to know. She said the standards are not much different than when she was in school. The only difference, she stressed, is the standards are much more focused and difficult and are started at a younger age.

“I think the standards are good. I think what we have identified as far as what the students need to know is good,” said Sheldon. “I think how we deal with the standards and how we teach students is where we have control. The materials we use, the teaching strategies we use, the way teachers interact with students and the way we use technology to engage students, all of those things are good.”

Sheldon said she follows a set of guidelines and has used these questions in every district in which she has worked: What do we want the students to know? How do we know they have learned it? What do we do if they don’t learn it? and What do we do if the students do learn it?

She also discussed a possible program with Western Nevada College to run a pilot program with college courses offered at the high school for 11th- and 12th-grade students. She said future meetings will determine if this pilot program is compatible with CCHS.

“Our children are going to go to school at Stanford, Yale, Texas A&M and Washington State University,” said Sheldon. “They have the opportunity to go to school anywhere, but we have to make sure that they are ready to do that and be competitive with the rest of the nation.”

She said she believes that the school district and parents want the children to have a high level of education, to be productive citizens, to carry the country forward and to keep it at the high academic levels it currently enjoys.

Sheldon said the idea behind the program is for students learning and growing, identifying what students need to know and having focused instruction.

“We know what the standards are and what we need to teach,” she said.

Participants asked Sheldon questions with the majority of them directed toward CCSS.

Here is a sampling of the questions:

Q: Bob Clifford believes that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has too big of a role in the Common Core and receives a substantial profit when states adopt the Common Core standards. He wondered if the entire program is really good for education or is it good for Bill Gates?

A: I think this program is good for students. I think it’s how we use them that is important. I think that the standards are good. I’ve gone through every standard and I don’t see a conspiracy theory within the standards. I just think they’re good solid expectations of what we want our students to know and learn.

Q: I have some nephews that have special needs and I was wondering how these standards would accommodate them?

A: Special needs children follow an Individual Education Plan that is created for them. We look at how we can provide interventions to help those students. It might consist of an after-school program or interventions during the school day or working with the parents to help them help their children from home as well as at school.

Q: Since teachers are going to be working with parents to help students, will teachers be making home visits to make sure the parents and students are doing what they need?

A: Unfortunately no, because of safety concerns we do not encourage our teachers to do that. We have created through the forum a parent engagement web of email. So we can encourage parents to participate that way.

Q: Are we using Common Core now?

A: We are in the process of implementing it.

Sheldon said the standards will be a good benchmark for both students and teachers.

“If I didn’t believe the students would benefit from the Common Core, then I wouldn’t be doing this job,” Sheldon said. “I do believe students will benefit from the standards and I believe the teachers will be able to do a better job of teaching because they know what students need to know.”